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The    Library 

of 

Literary    History 


pbrarg  of   f  tierarg  pst0rg 


A    LITERARY     HISTORY    OF    INDIA.       By    R.    W 
FRAZER,  LL.B. 

A  LITERARY   HISTORY  OF  IRELAND.    By  DOUGLAS 
HYDE,  LL.D. 

A  LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  THE  UNITED   STATES. 
By  BARRETT  WENDELL. 

Other  Volumes  in  Preparation. 

A     LITERARY     HISTORY     OF     THE     JEWS.        By 
ISRAEL  ABRAHAMS. 

ETC.  ETC.  ETC. 

There  is  for  every  nation  a  history,  which  does  not  respond  to  the 
trumpet-call  of  battle,  which  does  not  limit  its  interests  to  the  conflict  of 
dynasties.  This  —  the  history  of  intellectual  growth  and  artistic  achievement 
—  if  less  romantic  than  the  popular  panorama  of  kings  and  queens,  finds  its 
material  in  imperishable  masterpieces,  and  reveals  to  the  student  something 
at  once  more  vital  and  more  picturesque  than  the  quarrels  of  rival  parlia- 
ments. Nor  is  it  in  any  sense  unscientific  to  shift  the  point  of  view  from 
politics  to  literature.  It  is  but  a  fashion  of  history  which  insists  that  a 
nation  lives  only  for  her  warriors,  a  fashion  which  might  long  since  have 
been  ousted  by  the  commonplace  reflection  that,  ir  spite  of  history,  the  poets 
are  the  true  masters  of  the  earth.  If  all  record  of  a  nation's  progress  were 
blotted  out,  and  its  literature  were  yet  left  us,  might  we  not  recover  the  out- 
lines of  its  lost  history  ? 

It  is,  then,  with  the  literature  of  nations,  that  the  present  series  is 
concerned. 

Each  volume  will  be  entrusted  to  a  distinguished  scholar,  and  the  aid  of 
foreign  men  of  letters  will  be  invited  whenever  the  perfection  of  the  series 
demands  it. 


THE  LIBRARY 

OF 
LITERARY  HISTORT 


A   Literary  History  of  Ireland 


CASE  OF 

MOLAISE'S 

GOSPELS. 


A  Literary  History 
of  Ireland 

From  Earliest  Times  to  the  Present  Day 


By 

Douglas    Hyde,    LL.D.,    M.R.I. A. 

[An    Craoibhfn    Aoibhinn] 


SECOND    IMPRESSION 

,   A 


New    York 

Charles    Scribner's    Sons 
1901 


SDeDication, 


TO    THE    MEMBERS    OF    THE    GAELIC    LEAGUE, 

THE    ONLY    BODY    IN    IRELAND    WHICH    APPEARS    TO 

REALISE    THE    FACT    THAT    IRELAND    HAS    A    PAST,    HAS    A 

HISTORY,      HAS     A     LITERATURE,      AND     THE     ONLY     BODY    IN 

IRELAND     WHICH     SEEKS     TO     RENDER     THE     PRESENT     A 

RATIONAL    CONTINUATION    OF    THE    PAST, 

I   DEDICATE 

THIS    ATTEMPT    AT     A     REVIEW    OF    THAT    LITERATURE 

WHICH   DESPITE  ITS  PRESENT   NEGLECTED  POSITION 

THEY    FEEL    AND    KNOW    TO    BE    A    TRUE 

POSSESSION     OF    NATIONAL 

IMPORTANCE. 


DO  CHONNRADH  NA  GAEDHEILGE. 

A  Chonnradh  chaoin,  a  Chonnradh  choir, 
Rinn  obair  mhor  gan  or  gan  cabhair, 

Glacaidh  an  dos  a  dlighim  daoibh, 
Guidhim,  glacaidh  go  caoimh  mo  leabhar. 

A  chdirde  cleibh  is  iomdha  Id 

D'oibrigheamar  go  bredgh  le  ch&ile, 
Gan  clampar,  agusfosgan  cad, 

'S  da  mhead  dr  dteas',  gan  puinn  di-chiille. 

Chuireabhar  suil  'san  bhfear  bhi  dall, 
Thugabhar  cluas  donfhear  bhi  bodhar, 

Glacaidh  an  cios  do  bheirim  daoibh, 
Guidhim,  glacaidh  go  caoimh  mo  leabhar. 


\ 


PREFACE 


THE  present  volume  has  been  styled — in  order  to  make  it  a 
companion  book  to  other  of  Mr.  Unwin's  publications — a 
"  Literary  History  of  Ireland,"  but  a  "  Literary  History  of 
Irish  Ireland  "  would  be  a  more  correct  title,  for  I  have  ab- 
stained altogether  from  any  analysis  or  even  mention  of  the 
works  of  Anglicised  Irishmen  of  the  last  two  centuries.  Their 
books,  as  those  of  Farquhar,  of  Swift,  of  Goldsmith,  of  Burke, 
find,  and  have  always  found,  their  true  and  natural  place  in 
every  history  of  English  literature  that  has  been  written, 
whether  by  Englishmen  themselves  or  by  foreigners. 

My  object  in  this  volume  has  been  to  give  a  general  view  of 
the  literature  produced  by  the  Irish-speaking  Irish,  and  to 
reproduce  by  copious  examples  some  of  its  more  salient,  or  at 
least  more  characteristic  features. 

In  studying  the  literature  itself,  both  that  of  the  past  and 
that  of  the  present,  one  of  the  things  which  has  most  forcibly 
struck  me  is  the  marked  absence  of  the  purely  personal  note, 
the  absence  of  great  predominating  names,  or  of  great  pre- 
dominating works  ;  while  just  as  striking  is  the  almost  uni- 
versal diffusion  of  a  traditional  literary  taste  and  a  love  of 
literature  in  the  abstract  amongst  all  classes  of  the  native  Irish. 
The  whole  history  of  Irish  literature  shows  how  warmly  the 
efforts  of  all  who  assisted  in  its  production  were  appreciated. 


x  PREFACE 

The  greatest  English  bard  of  the  Elizabethan  age  was  allowed 
by  his  countrymen  to  perish  of  poverty  in  the  streets  of 
London,  while  the  pettiest  chief  of  the  meanest  clan  would 
have  been  proud  to  lay  his  hearth  and  home  and  a  share  of  his 
wealth  at  the  disposal  of  any  Irish  "  ollarhh."  The  love  for 
literature  of  a  traditional  type,  in  song,  in  poem,  in  saga, 
was,  I  think,  more  nearly  universal  in  Ireland  than  in  any 
country  of  western  Europe,  and  hence  that  which  appears  to- 
me to  be  of  most  value  in  ancient  Irish  literature  is  not  that 
whose  authorship  is  known,  but  rather  the  mass  of  traditional 
matter  which  seems  to  have  grown  up  almost  spontaneously, 
and  slowly  shaped  itself  into  the  literary  possession  of  an  entire 
nation.  An  almost  universal  acquaintance  with  a  traditional 
literature  was  a  leading  trait  amongst  the  Irish  down  to  the 
last  century,  when  every  barony  and  almost  every  townland 
still  possessed  its  poet  and  reciter,  and  song,  recitation,  music, 
and  oratory  were  the  recognised  amusements  of  nearly  the 
whole  population.  That  population  in  consequence,  so  far  as 
wit  and  readiness  of  language  and  power  of  expression  went,, 
had  almost  all  attained  a  remarkably  high  level,  without  how- 
ever producing  any  one  of  a  commanding  eminence.  In  col- 
lecting the  floating  literature  of  the  present  day  also,  the 
unknown  traditional  poems  and  the  Ossianic  ballads  and  the 
stories  of  unknown  authorship  are  of  greater  value  than  the 
pieces  of  bards  who  are  known  and  named.  In  both  cases, 
that  of  the  ancient  and  that  of  the  modern  Irish,  all  that  is  of 
most  value  as  literature,  was  the  property  and  in  some  sense 
the  product  of  the  people  at  large,  and  it  exercised  upon  them 
a  most  striking  and  potent  influence.  And  this  influence  may 
be  traced  amongst  the  Irish-speaking  population  even  at  the 
present  day,  who  have,  I  may  almost  say,  one  and  all,  a  re- 
markable command  of  language  and  a  large  store  of  traditional 
literature  learned  by  heart,  which  strongly  differentiates  them 
from  the  Anglicised  products  of  the  "  National  Schools  "  ta 
the  bulk  of  whom  poetry  is  an  unknown  term,  and  amongst 


PREFACE  xi 

whom  there  exists  little  or  no  trace  of  traditional  Irish  feelings, 
or  indeed  seldom  of  any  feelings  save  those  prompted  by  (when 
they  read  it)  a  weekly  newspaper. 

The  exact  extent  of  the  Irish  literature  still  remaining  in 
manuscript  has  never  been  adequately  determined.  M.  d'Arbois 
de  Jubainville  has  noted  133  still  existing  manuscripts,  all 
copied  before  the  year  1600,  and  the  whole  number  which  he 
has  found  existing  chiefly  in  public  libraries  on  the  Continent 
and  in  the  British  Isles  amounts  to  1,009.  But  many  others 
have  since  been  discovered,  and  great  numbers  must  be 
scattered  throughout  the  country  in  private  libraries,  and 
numbers  more  are  perishing  or  have  recently  perished  of 
neglect  since  the  "  National  Schools "  were  established. 
Jubainville  quotes  a  German  as  estimating  that  the  literature 
produced  by  the  Irish  before  the  seventeenth  century,  and 
still  existing,  would  fill  a  thousand  octavo  volumes.  It  is  hard 
to  say,  however,  how  much  of  this  could  be  called  literature  in 
a  true  sense  of  the  word,  since  law,  medicine,  and  science  were 
probably  included  in  the  calculation.  O'Curry,  O'Longan, 
and  O'Beirne  Crowe  catalogued  something  more  than  half  the 
manuscripts  in  the  Royal  Irish  Academy,  and  the  catalogue  of 
contents  filled  thirteen  volumes  containing  3,448  pages.  To 
these  an  alphabetic  index  of  the  pieces  contained  was  made  in 
three  volumes,  and  an  index  of  the  principal  names,  etc.,  in 
thirteen  volumes  more.  From  a  rough  calculation,  based  on 
an  examination  of  these,  I  should  place  the  number  of  different 
pieces  catalogued  by  them  at  about  ten  thousand,  ranging  from 
single  quatrains  or  even  single  sentences  to  long  poems  and 
epic  sagas.  But  in  the  Academy  alone,  there  are  nearly  as 
many  more  manuscripts  which  still  remain  uncatalogued. 

It  is  probably  owing  to  the  extreme  difficulty  of  arriving  at 
any  certain  conclusions  as  to  the  real  extent  of  Irish  literature 
that  no  attempt  at  a  consecutive  history  of  it  has  ever  pre- 
viously been  made.  Despite  this  difficulty,  there  is  no  doubt 
that  such  a  work  would  long  ago  have  been  attempted  had  it 


xii  PREFACE 

not  been  for  the  complete  breakdown  and  destruction  of  Irish 
Ireland  which  followed  the  Great  Famine,  and  the  unexpected 
turn  given  to  Anglo-Irish  literature  by  the  efforts  of  the 
Young  Ireland  School  to  compete  with  the  English  in  their 
own  style,  their  own  language,  and  their  own  models. 

For  the  many  sins  of  omission  and  commission  in  this 
volume  I  must  claim  the  reader's  kind  indulgence  ;  nobody  can 
be  better  aware  of  its  shortcomings  than  I  myself,  and  the  only 
excuse  that  I  can  plead  is  that  over  so  much  of  the  ground  I  have 
had  to  be  my  own  pioneer.  I  confidently  hope,  however,  that 
in  the  renewed  interest  now  being  taken  in  our  native  civi- 
lisation and  native  literature  some  scholar  far  more  fully 
equipped  for  his  task  than  I,  may  soon  render  this  volume 
superfluous  by  an  ampler,  juster,  and  more  artistic  treatment 
of  what  is  really  a  subject  of  great  national  importance. 

National  or  important,  however,  it  does  not  appear  to  be 
considered  in  these  islands,  where  outside  of  the  University  of 
Oxford — which  has  given  noble  assistance  to  the  cause  of  Celtic 
studies — sympathisers  are  both  few  and  far  between.  Indeed, 
I  fancy  that  anybody  who  has  applied  himself  to  the  subject  of 
Celtic  literature  would  have  a  good  deal  to  tell  about  the 
condescending  contempt  with  which  his  studies  have  been 
regarded  by  his  fellows.  "  I  shall  not  easily  forget,"  said  Dr 
Petrie,  addressing  a  meeting  of  the  Royal  Irish  Academy  upon 
that  celebrated  example  of  early  Celtic  workmanship  the  Tara 
Brooch,  "  that  when  in  reference  to  the  existence  of  a  similar 
remain  of  ancient  Irish  art,  I  had  first  the  honour  to  address 
myself  to  a  meeting  of  this  high  institution,  I  had  to  encounter 
the  incredulous  astonishment  of  the  illustrious  Dr.  Brinkley  " 
{of  Trinity  College,  President  of  the  Academy]  "  which  was 
implied  in  the  following  remark,  '  Surely,  sir,  you  do  not  mean 
to  tell  us  that  there  exists  the  slightest  evidence  to  prove  that 
the  Irish  had  any  acquaintance  with  the  arts  of  civilised  life 
anterior  to  the  arrival  in  Ireland  of  the  English  ?'  nor  shall  I 


PREFACE  xiii 

forget  that  in  the  scepticism  which  this  remark  implied  nearly 
all  the  members  present  very  obviously  participated."  Exactly 
the  same  feeling  which  Dr.  Petrie  encountered  was  prevalent 
in  my  own  alma  mater  in  the  eighties,  where  one  of  our  most 
justly  popular  lecturers  said — in  gross  ignorance  but  perfect 
good  faith — that  the  sooner  the  Irish  recognised  that  before  the 
arrival  of  Cromwell  they  were  utter  savages,  the  better  it  would 
be  for  everybody  concerned  !  Indeed,  it  was  only  the  other 
day  that  one  of  our  ablest  and  best  known  professors  protested 
publicly  in  the  Contemporary  Review  against  the  enormity  of 
an  Irish  bishop  signing  so  moderate,  and  I  am  sure  so  reason- 
able a  document,  as  a  petition  asking  to  have  Irish  children 
who  knew  no  English,  taught  through  the  medium  of  the 
language  which  they  spoke.  Last  year,  too,  another  most 
learned  professor  of  Dublin  University  went  out  of  his  way  to 
declare  that  "  the  mass  of  material  preserved  [in  the  Irish 
manuscripts]  is  out  of  all  proportion  to  its  value  as  'literature,'" 
and  to  insist  that  "  in  the  enormous  mass  of  Irish  MSS.  pre- 
served, there  is  absolutely  nothing  that  in  the  faintest  degree 
rivals  the  splendours  of  the  vernacular  literatures  of  the  Middle 
Ages,"  that  "  their  value  as  literature  is  but  small,"  and  that 
"for  educational  purposes  save  in  this  limited  sense  [of  linguistic 
study]  they  are  wholly  unsuited,"  winding  up  with  the  extra- 
ordinary assertion  that  "  there  is  no  solid  ground  for  supposing 
that  the  tales  current  at  the  time  of  our  earliest  MSS.  were 
much  more  numerous  than  the  tales  of  which  fragments  have 
come  down  to  us."  As  to  the  civilisation  of  the  early  Irish 
upon  which  Petrie  insisted,  there  is  no  longer  room  for  the 
very  shadow  of  a  doubt ;  but  whether  the  literature  which  they 
produced  is  so  utterly  valueless  as  this,  and  so  utterly  devoid  of 
all  interest  as  "  literature,"  the  reader  of  this  volume  must 
judge  for  himself.  I  should  be  glad  also  if  he  were  to  institute 
a  comparison  between  "  the  splendours  of  the  vernacular 
literatures  "  of  Germany,  England,  Spain,  and  even  Italy  and 
France,  prior  to  the  year  1000,  and  that  of  the  Irish,  for  I  am 


xiv  PREFACE 

very  much  mistaken  if  in  their  early  development  of  rhyme, 
alone,  in  their  masterly  treatment  of  sound,  and  in  their 
absolutely  unique  and  marvellous  system  of  verse-forms,  the 
Irish  will  not  be  found  to  have  created  for  themselves  a  place 
alone  and  apart  in  the  history  of  European  literatures. 

I  hardly  know  a  sharper  contrast  in  the  history  of  human 
thought  than  the  true  traditional  literary  instinct  which  four 
years  ago  prompted  fifty  thousand  poor  hard-working  Irishmen 
in  the  United  States  to  contribute  each  a  dollar  towards  the 
foundation  of  a  Celtic  chair  in  the  Catholic  University  of 
Washington  in  the  land  of  their  adoption,  choosing  out  a  fit 
man  and  sending  him  to  study  under  the  great  Celticists  of 
Germany,  in  the  hope  that  his  scholarship  might  one  day 
reflect  credit  upon  the  far-off  country  of  their  birth  ;  while  in 
that  very  country,  by  far  the  richest  college  in  the  British  Isles, 
one  of  the  wealthiest  universities  in  the  world,  allows  its  so- 
called  "  Irish  professorship  "  to  be  an  adjunct  of  its  Divinity 
School,  founded  and  paid  by  a  society  for — the  conversion  of 
Irish  Roman  Catholics  through  the  medium  of  their  own 
language  ! 

This  is  the  more  to  be  regretted  because  had  the  unique 
manuscript  treasures  now  shut  up  in  cases  in  the  underground 
room  of  Trinity  College  Library,  been  deposited  in  any  other 
seat  of  learning  in  Europe,  in  Paris,  Rome,  Vienna,  or  Berlin, 
there  would  long  ago  have  been  trained  up  scholars  to  read 
them,  a  catalogue  of  them  would  have  been  published,  and 
funds  would  have  been  found  to  edit  them.  At  present  the 
Celticists  of  Europe  are  placed  under  the  great  disadvantage  of 
having  to  come  over  to  Dublin  University  to  do  the  work  that 
it  is  not  doing  for  itself. 

It  is  fortunate  however  that  the  spread  of  education  within 
the  last  few  years  (due  perhaps  partly  to  the  establishment 
of  the  Royal  University,  partly  to  the  effects  of  Intermediate 
Education,  and  partly  to  the  numerous  literary  societies  which 
working  upon  more  or  less  national  lines  have  spontaneously 


PREFACE  xv 

sprung  up  amongst  the  Irish  people  themselves)  has,  by  taking 
the  prestige  of  literary  monopoly  out  of  the  hands  of  Dublin 
University,  to  a  great  extent  undone  the  damage  which  had 
so  long  been  caused  to  native  scholarship  by  its  attitude. 
It  was  the  more  necessary  to  do  this,  because  the  very  fact 
that  it  had  never  taken  the  trouble  to  publish  even  a  printed 
catalogue  of  its  Irish  manuscripts — as  the  British  Museum 
authorities  have  done — was  by  many  people  interpreted,  I 
believe,  as  a  sort  of  declaration  of  their  worthlessness. 

In  dealing  with  Irish  proper  names  I  have  experienced  the 
same  difficulty  as  every  one  else  who  undertakes  to  treat  of 
Irish  history.  Some  native  names,  especially  those  with 
4i  mortified  "  or  aspirated  letters,  look  so  unpronounceable  as  to 
prove  highly  disconcerting  to  an  English  reader.  The  system 
I  have  followed  is  to  leave  the  Irish  orthography  untouched, 
but  in  cases  where  the  true  pronunciation  differed  appreciably 
from  the  sound  which  an  English  reader  would  give  the  letters, 
I  have  added  a  phonetic  rendering  of  the  Irish  form  in 
brackets,  as  "  Muighmheadhon  [Mwee-va-on],  Lughaidh 
[Lewy]."  There  are  a  few  names  such  as  Ossian,  Meve, 
Donough,  MuiTough  and  others,  which  have  been  almost 
adopted  into  English,  and  these  forms  I  have  generally  retained 
— perhaps  wrongly — but  my  desire  has  been  to  throw  no  unne- 
cessary impediments  in  the  way  of  an  English  reader  ;  I  have 
always  given  the  true  Irish  form  at  least  once.  Where  the 
word  "  mac "  is  not  part  of  a  proper  name,  but  really  means 
"son  of"  as  in  Finn  mac  Cumhail,  I  have  printed  it  with 
a  small  "  m "  ;  and  in  such  names  as  "  Cormac  mac  Art " 
I  have  usually  not  inflected  the  last  word,  but  have  written 
"  Art "  not  "  Airt,"  so  as  to  avoid  as  far  as  possible  confusing 
the  English  reader. 

I  very  much  regret  that  I  have  found  it  impossible,  owing 
to  the  brief  space  of  time  between  printing  and  publication, 
to  submit  the  following  chapters  to  any  of  my  friends  for 


xvi  PREFACE 

their  advice  and  criticism.  I  beg,  however,  to  here  express 
my  best  thanks  to  my  friend  Father  Edmund  Hogan,  S.J., 
for  the  numerous  memoranda  which  he  was  kind  enough  to 
give  me  towards  the  last  chapter  of  this  book,  that  on  the 
history  of  Irish  as  a  spoken  language,  and  also  to  express  my 
regret  that  the  valuable  critical  edition  of  the  Book  of  Hymns 
by  Dr.  Atkinson  and  Dr.  Bernard,  M.  Bertrand's  "  Religion 
Gauloise,"  and  Miss  Hull's  interesting  volume  on  "  Cuchullin 
Saga,"  which  should  be  read  in  connection  with  my  chapters 
on  the  Red  Branch  cycle,  appeared  too  late  for  me  to  make 
use  of. 

RATH-TREAGH,  OIDHCHE  SAMHNA 
MDCCCXCIX. 


CONTENTS 


CHAP.  PACK 

I.  WHO  WERE  THE  CELTS?  i 
II.  EARLIEST  ALLUSIONS  TO  IRELAND  FROM  FOREIGN 

SOURCES       ......  17 

III.  EARLY  HISTORY  DRAWN  FROM  NATIVE  SOURCES     .  25 

IV.  How  FAR  CAN  NATIVE  SOURCES  BE  RELIED  ON  ?  .  38 
V.  THE  PRE-MILESIAN   FABLE  AND  EARLY  PANTHEON  44 

VI.  EVIDENCE  OF  TOPOGRAPHY  AND  GENEALOGY           .  56 

VII.  DOCUMENTARY  EVIDENCE        .           .  70 

VIII.  CONFUSION  BETWEEN  GODS  AND  MEN          .           .  77 

IX.  DRUIDISM           ......  82 

X.  THE  IRISH  ELYSIUM  AND  BELIEF  IN  REBIRTH        .  94 

XI.  EARLY  USE  OF  LETTERS,  OGAM  AND  ROMAN            .  105 

v    XII.  EARLY  IRISH  CIVILISATION      ....  122 

XIII.  ST.  PATRICK  AND  THE  EARLY  MISSIONARIES            .  133 

XIV.  ST.  BRIGIT          .           .                      .           .           .156 
XV.  COLUMCILLE       ......  166 

/  XVI.  THE  FIRST  SCHOOLS  OF  CHRISTIAN  IRELAND           .  192 

XVII.  THEIR  FAME  AND  TEACHING  ....  215 

XVIII.  CONFLICTS  WITH  THE  CIVIL  POWER  .           .           .  225 


xviii  CONTENTS 

CHAP.  PAGE 

XIX.  THE  BARDIC  SCHOOLS         ....        239 

XX.  THE  SUGGESTIVELY  PAGAN  ELEMENT  IN  IRISH 

LITERATURE     .  .  .  .  .251 

•/XXL  THE  OLDEST  BOOKS  AND  POEMS  .  .  .263 

•  XXII.  EARLY  SAGA  AND  ROMANCE  .  .  .        276 

XXIII.  THE  MYTHOLOGICAL  CYCLE  .  .  .281 

XXIV.  THE  HEROIC  OR  RED  BRANCH  CYCLE— CUCHU- 

LAIN      ......        293 

XXV.  DEIRDRE        ......        302 

XXVI.  THE  TAIN  Bo  CHUAILGNE  .  .  .  .        319 

XXVII.  THE  DEATH  OF  CUCHULAIN          .  .  .341 

XXVIII.  OTHER  SAGAS  OF  THE  RED  BRANCH        .  .        354 

XXIX.  THE  FENIAN  CYCLE  .  .  .  .363 

XXX.  MISCELLANEOUS  ROMANCE  ....       387 

XXXI.  PRE-DANISH  POETS  .....        405 

XXXII.  THE  DANISH  PERIOD  ....        419 

XXXIII.  FROM  CLONTARF  TO  THE  NORMAN  CONQUEST     .        443 

XXXIV.  SUDDEN  ARREST  OF  IRISH  DEVELOPMENT          .        452 
XXXV.  FOUR  CENTURIES  OF  DECAY          .  .  .        465 

XXXVI.  DEVELOPMENT  OF  IRISH  POETRY  .  .  .        479 

XXXVII.  THE  OSSIANIC  POEMS         .  .  .  .498 

XXXVIII.  THE  LAST  OF  THE  CLASSIC  POETS  .  .        514 

XXXIX.  RISE  OF  A  NEW  SCHOOL    ....        539 

XL.  PROSE  WRITERS  OF  THE  SEVENTEENTH  CENTURY        552 

XLI.  THE  IRISH  ANNALS.  ....        573 

XLII.  THE  BREHON  LAWS  .  .  .  .583 

XLIII.  THE  EIGHTEENTH  CENTURY  .  .        591 

XLIV.  THE  HISTORY  OF  IRISH  AS  A  SPOKEN  LANGUAGE        608 

INDEX       ........        639 


Literary  History  of  Ireland 


CHAPTER  I 

WHO    WERE    THE    CELTS  ? 

rHO  were  those  Celts,  of  whose  race  the  Irish  are  to-day 
perhaps  the  most  striking  representatives,  and  upon  whose  past 
the  ancient  literature  of  Ireland  can  best  throw  light  ? 

Like  the  Greeks,  like  the  Romans,  like  the  English,  this 
great  people,  which  once  ruled  over  a  fourth  of  Europe,  sprang 
from  a  small  beginning  and  from  narrow  confines.  The 
earliest  home  of  the  race  from  which  they  spread  their  conquer- 
ing arms  may  be  said,  roughly  speaking,  to  have  lain  along 
both  banks  of  the  upper  Danube,  and  in  that  portion  of 
Europe  comprised  to-day  in  the  kingdoms  of  Bavaria  and 
Wiirtemberg  and  the  Grand  Duchy  of  Baden,  with  the 
country  drained  by  the  river  Maine  to  the  east  of  the  Rhine 
basin.  In  other  words,  the  Celtic  race  and  the  Celtic  language 
sprang  from  the  heart  of  what  is  to-day  modern  Germany,  and 
issuing  thence  established  for  over  two  centuries  a  vast  empire 
held  together  by  the  ties  of  political  unity  and  a  common 
language  over  all  North-west  and  Central  Europe. 

The  vast  extent  of  the  territory  conquered  and  colonised  by 
the  Celts,  and  the  unity  of  their  speech,  may  be  conjectured 
from  an  examination  of  the  place-names  of  Celtic  origin  which 

A  i 


2         LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

either  still  exist  or  figure  as  having  existed  in  European 
history.1 

The  Celts  seem  to  have  been  first  known  to  Greek — that  is, 
to  European  history — under  the  semi-mythological  name  of 
the  Hyperboreans,2  an  appellation  which  remained  in  force 
from  the  sixth  to  the  fourth  century  before  Christ.  The 
name  Celt  or  Kelt  3  first  makes  its  appearance  towards  the  year 
500  B.C.,  in  the  geography  of  Hecataeus  of  Miletum,  and  is 
thereafter  used  successively  by  Herodotus,  Xenophon,  Plato, 
and  Aristotle,  and  from  that  time  forward  it  seems  to  have 
been  employed  by  the  Greek  scholars  and  historians  as  a 
generic  term  whereby  to  designate  the  Celts  of  the  Continent. 

Soon  afterwards  the  word  Galatian  came  also  into  use,4  and 
was  used  as  a  synonym  for  Celt.  In  the  first  century  B.C., 
however,  the  discovery  was  made  that  the  Germans  and  the 
Celts,  who  had  been  hitherto  confounded  in  the  popular  esti- 
mation, were  really  two  different  peoples,  a  fact  which  Julius 
Caesar  was  almost  the  first  to  point  out.  Diodorus  Siculus, 


1  Take,  for  instance,  the  Celtic  word  duno-nt  Latinised  dunum,  which  is 
the  Irish  dun  "  castle  "  or  "  fortress,"  so  common  in  Irish  topography,  as  in 
Dunmore,  Dunsink,  Shandun,  &c.  There  are  over  a  dozen  instances  of 
this  word  in  France,  nearly  as  many  in  Great  Britain,  more  than  half  a 
dozen  in  Spain,  eight  or  nine  in  Germany,  three  in  Austria,  a  couple  in 
the  Balkan  States,  three  more  in  Switzerland,  one  at  least  (Lug-dun,  now 
Leyden)  in  the  Low  Countries,  one  in  Portugal,  one  in  Piedmont,  one  in 
South  Russia. 

Celtic  was  once  spoken  from  Ireland  to  the  Black  Sea,  although  the 
population  who  can  how  speak  Celtic  dialects  is  not  more  than  three  or  four 
millions.  As  for  Celtic  archaeological  remains  "  on  les  trouve  tant  dans 
nos  musees  nationaux  (en  particulier  au  Musee  de  Saint  Germain)  que  dans 
les  collections  publiques  de  la  Hongrie,  de  1'Autriche,  de  la  Hesse,  de  la 
Boheme,  du  Wurtemburg,  du  pays  de  Bade,  de  la  Suisse,  de  1'  Italic 
(Bertrand  and  Reinach,  p.  3). 


3  K€\T-O£.  The  Greeks,  the  Latins,  and  the  Celts  themselves  pronounced 
Kelt,  as  do  the  modern  Germans.  It  is  against  the  genius  of  the  French 
language  to  pronounce  the  c  hard,  but  not  against  that  of  the  English,  who 
consequently  had  better  say  Kelt. 


WHO    WERE   THE   CELTS?  3 

accordingly,  struck  by  this  discovery,  translates  Caesar's  Gal/us 
or  Gaul  by  the  word  Celt,  and  his  Germanus  or  German  by 
the  word  Galatian,  while  the  other  Greek  historian,  Dion  Cassius, 
does  the  exact  opposite,  calling  the  Celts  "  Galatians,"  and  the 
Germans  "Celts  "  !  The  examples  thus  set,  however,  were  the 
result  of  ignorance  and  were  never  followed.  Plutarch  treats 
the  two  words  as  identical,  as  do  Strabo,  Pausanias  and  all 
other  Greek  writers. 

The  word  Celt  itself  is  probably  of  very  ancient  origin,  and 
was,  no  doubt,  in  use  800  or  1,000  years  before  Christ.1  It 
cannot,  however,  be  proved  that  it  is  a  generic  Celtic  name  for 
the  Celtic  race,  and  none  of  the  present  Celtic-speaking  races 
have  preserved  it  in  their  dialects.  Jubainville  derives  it,  very 
doubtfully  I  should  think,  from  a  Celtic  root  found  in  the  old 
Irish  verb  "ar-CHELL-aim"  ("I  plunder")  and  the  old  substantive 
to-CHELL  ("victory")  ;  while  he  derives  Galatian  from  a  Celtic 
substantive  now  represented  by  the  Irish  gal2  ("bravery"). 
This  latter  word  "  Galatian  "  is  one  which  the  German  peoples 
never  adopted,  and  it  appears  to  have  only  come  into  use  sub- 
sequently to  their  revolt  against  their  Celtic  masters.  After  the 
break-up  of  the  Celtic  Empire  it  was  employed  to  designate  the 
eastern  portion  of  the  race,  while  the  inhabitants  of  Gaul  were 
called  Celtae  and  those  of  Spain  Celtici  or  Celtiberi,  but  the 
Greeks  called  all  indifferently  by  the  common  name  of  Galatians. 

The  Romans  termed  the  Celts  Galli,  or  Gauls,  but  they 
used  the  geographical  term  Gallia,  or  Gaul,  in  a  restricted 
sense,  first  for  the  country  inhabited  by  the  Celts  in  North 

1  As  is  proved,  according  to  Jubainville,  by  its  having  made  its  way 
into  German  before  the  so-called  Laut-verschiebung  took  place,  to  the 
laws  of  which  it  submitted,  for  out  of  Celtis,  the  feminine  form  of  it,  they 
have  made    Childis,   as  in    the    Frank-Merovingian    Bruni-Childis    or 
Brunhild,  and  the  old  Scandinavian  Hildr,  the  war-goddess. 

2  This  was  actually  a  living  word  as  recently  as  ten  years  ago.    I  knew 
an  old  man  who  often  used  it  in  the  sense  of  "spirit,"  "  fire,"  "energy"  : 
he  used  to  say  cuir  gal  a nn,  meaning  do  it  bravely,  energetically.    This 
was  in  the  county  Roscommon.     I  cannot  say  that  I  have  heard  the  word 
elsewhere. 


4         LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

Italy  upon  their  own  side  of  the  Alps,  and  after  that  for  the 
Celtic  territory  conquered  by  Rome  upon  the  other  side  of  the 
Alps. 

The  Germans  appear  to  have  called  the  Celts  Wolah,  a 
name  derived  from  the  Celtic  tribe  the  Volcae,  who  were  so 
long  their  neighbours,  out  of  which  appellation  came  the 
Anglo-Saxon  Wealh  and  the  modern  English  "  Welsh." 

There  is  one  curious  characteristic  distinguishing,  from  its 
very  earliest  appearance,  the  Celtic  language  from  its  Indo- 
European  sisters  :  this  is  the  loss  of  the  letter  p  both  at  the 
beginning  of  a  word  and  when  it  is  placed  between  two 
vowels.1  This  dropping  of  the  letter  p  had  already  given  to 
the  Celtic  language  a  special  character  of  its  own,  at  the  time 
when  breaking  forth  from  their  earliest  home  the  Celts  crossed 
the  Rhine  and  proceeded,  perhaps  a  thousand  years  before 
Christ,  to  establish  themselves  in  the  British  Isles.  The  Celts 
who  first  colonised  Ireland  said,  for  instance,  atir  for  pater, 
but  they  had  not  yet  experienced,  nor  did  they  ever  experience, 
that  curious  linguistic  change  which  at  a  later  time  is  assumed 
to  have  come  over  the  Celts  of  the  Continent  and  caused 
them  to  not  only  recover  their  faculty  of  pronouncing  />, 
but  to  actually  change  into  a  p  the  Indo-European  guttural 
q.  Their  descendants,  the  modern  Irish,  to  this  very  day 
retain  the  primitive  word-forms  which  had  their  origin  a 
thousand  years  before  Christ.  So  much  so  is  this  the  case 
that  the  Welsh  antiquary  Lhuyd,  writing  in  the  last  century, 
asserted,  and  with  truth,  that  there  were  "  scarce  any  words 
in  the  Irish  besides  what  are  borrowed  from  the  Latin  or 
some  other  language  that  begin  with  />,  insomuch  that  in 
an  ancient  alphabetical  vocabulary  I  have  by  me,  that  letter  is 
omitted."2  Even  with  the  introduction'  of  Christianity  and 

x  Thus  the  Greek  vTrtp,  Latin  s-uper,  German  iiber  is  ver  in  ancient  Celtic 
(for  in  Old  Irish,  ar  in  the  modern  language),  platanus  becomes  litano-s 
(Irish  leathan),  irapd  becomes  are,  and  so  on. 

a  Lhuyd's  "  Comparative  Etymology,"  title  i.  p.  21.  Out  of  over  700  pages 
in  O'Reilly's  Irish  dictionary  only  twelve  are  occupied  with  the  letter/. 


WHO    WERE   THE   CELTS?  5 

the  knowledge  of  Latin  the  ancient  Irish  persisted  in  their 
repugnance  to  this  letter,  and  made  of  the  Latin  Tasch-a 
(Easter)  the  word  Casg,  and  of  the  Latin  purpur-a  the  Irish 
curcur. 

But  meantime  the  Continental  Celts  had  either — as  Jubain- 
ville  seems  to  think — recovered  their  faculty  for  pronouncing 
/>,  or  else — as  Rhys  believes — been  overrun  by  other  semi-Celts 
who,  owing  to  some  strong  non-Aryan  intermixture,  found  q 
repugnant  to  them,  and  changed  it  into  p.  This  appears  to  have 
taken  place  prior  to  the  year  500  B.C.,  for  it  was  at  about  this 
time  that  they,  having  established  themselves  round  the  Seine 
and  Loire  and  north  of  the  Garonne,  overran  Spain,  carrying 
everywhere  with  them  this  comparatively  newly  adopted  />, 
as  we  can  see  by  their  tribal  and  place-names.  They  appeared 
in  Italy  sometime  about  400  B.C.,1  founded  their  colony  in 
Galatia  about  279  B.C.,  and  afterwards  sent  another  swarm  into 
Great  Britain,  and  to  all  these  places  they  bore  with  them  this 
obtrusive  letter  in  place  of  the  primitive  ^,  the  Irish  alone 
resisting  it,  for  the  Irish  represented  a  first  off-shoot  from  the 
cradle  of  the  race,  an  off-shoot  which  had  left  it  at  a  time 
when  q  represented  />,  and  not  p  q.  Hence  it  is  that  Welsh  is 
so  full  of  the  p  sound  which  the  primitive  Irish  would  never 
adopt,  as  a  glance  at  some  of  the  commonest  words  in  both 
languages  will  show. 

English :  Son  tree  head  person  worm  feather  everyone. 
Welsh :  Map  prenn  pen  nep  pryv  pluv  pa.up. 

Irish :       Mac  crann     cenn      nech         cruiv 2      duv 2        each. 

So  that  even  the  Irish  St.  Ciaran  becomes  Piaran  in  Wales.3 

1  Probably  for  the  second  time.    MM.  Bertrand  and  Reinach  seem  to 
have  proved  that  the  Cisalpine  peoples  of  North  Italy  who  were  under  the 
dominion  of  the  Etruscans  were  Celtic  in  manners  and  costume,  and 
probably  in  language  also.    See  "  Les  Celtes  dans  les  vallees  du  Po  et  du 
Danube."    Chapter  on  La  Gaule  Cisalpine. 

2  Rather  "  cruimh  "  and  "  clumh,"  the  mh  being  pronounced  ». 

3  In  this  matter  of  labialism  Greek  stands  to  some  small  extent  with 
regard  to  Latin,  as  Welsh  to  Irish.    Nor  is  Latin  itself  exempt  from  it  ; 
compare  the  labialised  Latin  sept-em  with  the  more  primitive  Irish  secht. 


6         LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

The  Celts  invaded  Italy  about  the  year  400  B.C.,  and 
stormed  Rome  a  few  years  later.  They  were  at  this  time  at 
the  height  of  their  power.  From  about  the  year  500  to  300 
B.C.  they  appear  to  have  possessed  a  very  high  degree  of 
political  unity,  to  have  been  led  by  a  single  king,1  and  to  have 
followed  with  signal  success  a  wise  and  consistent  external 
policy.  The  most  important  events  in  their  history  during 
this  period  were  the  three  successful  wars  which  they  waged— 
first  against  the  Carthaginians,  out  of  whose  hands  they  wrested 
the  peninsula  of  Spain  ;  secondly  in  Italy  against  the  Etruscans, 
which  ended  in  their  making  themselves  masters  of  the  north 
of  that  country  ;  and  thirdly  against  the  Illyrians  along  the 
Danube.  All  of  these  wars  were  followed  by  large  accessions 
of  territory.  One  of  the  most  striking  features  of  their 
external  policy  during  this  period  was  their  close  alliance  with 
the  Greeks,  whose  commercial  rivalry  with  the  Phoenicians 
naturally  brought  them  into  relations  with  the  Celtic  enemies 
of  Carthaginian  power  in  Spain,  relations  from  which  they 
reaped  much  advantage,  since  the  necessity  of  making  head 
against  the  Celtic  -invaders  of  Spain  must  have  seriously 
crippled  the  Carthaginian  power,  at  the  very  time  when,  as 
ally  of  the  Persians,  she  attacked  the  Greeks  in  Sicily,  and  lost 
the  battle  of  Himera  on  the  same  day  that  the  Persians  lost 
that  of  Salamis.  Greek  writers  of  the  fourth  century  speak  of 
the  Celts  as  practising  justice,  of  having  nearly  the  same 
manners  and  customs  as  the  Greeks,  and  they  notice  their 
hospitality  to  Grecian  strangers.2  Their  war  with  the  Etruscans 
in  North  Italy  completed  the  ruin  of  an  hereditary  enemy  of 

1  See  Livy's  account  of  Ambicatus,  who  seems  to  have  been  a  kind  of 
Celtic  Charlemagne,  or  more  probably  the  equivalent  of  the  Irish  ard-righ. 
Livy  probably  exaggerates  his  importance. 

3  Cf.  the  remarkable  verses  quoted  by  d'Arbois  de  Jubainville  of 
Scymnus  of  Chio,  following  Ephorus  : 

'*  XjObttrat  <5c  KeXroi  roif 
t%ovT£Q  ouc€iorara  TT/oog  rr}v  'EXXada 
Sid  TUQ  VTTOGOX&C;  rutv  i 


WHO    WERE   THE   CELTS?  7 

the  Greeks,1  and  their  war  with  the  Illyrians  no  doubt  largely 
strengthened  the  hands  of  Philip,  the  father  of  Alexander  the 
Great,  and  enabled  him  to  throw  off  the  tribute  which  the 
Illyrians  had  imposed  upon  Macedonia.  Nor  did  Alexander 
himself  embark  upon  his  expedition  into  Asia  without  having 
first  assured  himself  of  the  friendship  of  the  Celts.  He 
received  their  ambassadors  with  cordiality,  called  them  his 
friends,  and  received  from  them  a  promise  of  alliance.  "  If  we 
fulfil  not  our  engagement,"  said  they, "  may  the  sky  falling  upon 
us  crush  us,  may  the  earth  opening  swallow  us  up,  may  the  sea 
overflowing  its  borders  drown  us,"  and  we  may  well  believe  ; 
that  these  were  the  very  words  used  by  the  Celtic  chieftains  j 
when  we  find  in  an  Irish  saga  committed  to  writing  about  the  ' 
seventh  century  2  the  Ulster  heroes  swearing  to  their  king  when 
he  wished  to  leave  his  wing  of  the  battle  to  repel  the  attacks 
of  a  rival,  and  saying,  "  heaven  is  over  us  and  earth  is  under 
us  and  sea  is  round  about  us,  and  unless  the  firmament  fall 
with  its  star-showers  upon  the  face  of  the  earth,  or  unless 
the  earth  be  destroyed  by  earthquake,  or  unless  the  ridgy, 
blue-bordered  sea  come  over  the  expanse  ( ?)  of  life,  we  shall 
not  give  one  inch  of  ground." 

While  the  ambassadors  were  drinking  the  young  king  asked 
them  what  was  the  thing  they  most  feared,  thinking,  says  the 
historian,  that  they  would  say  himself,  but  their  answer  was 
quite  different.  "  We  fear  no  one,"  they  said  ;  u  there  is 
only  one  thing  that  we  fear,  which  is,  that  the  heavens  may 
fall  upon  us ;  but  the  friendship  of  such  a  man  as  you  we 
value  more  than  everything,"  whereat  the  king,  no  doubt 
considerably  astonished,  remarked  in  a  low  voice  to  his 
courtiers  what  a  vainglorious  people  these  Celts  were.3 

1  By  this  war  the  newly-arrived  bands  drove  out  the  Etruscan  aristocracy 
and  took  its  place,  ruling  over  a  population  of  what  were  really  their  Celtic 
kinsmen. 

8  The  Tain  Bo  Chuailgne. 

3  [KfXrotig]  a7r£7T€/A»//6,  roerovrov  iiirtiirutv  on  a\a£oVef  KeXrot  elaiv  (Arrian, 
bk.  i.  chap.  iv.). 


8          LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

All  through  the  life  of  Alexander  the  Celts  and  Mace- 
donians continued  on  good  terms,  and  amongst  the  many  envoys 
who  came  to  Babylon  to  salute  the  youthful  conqueror  of 
Persia,  appeared  their  representatives  also.  Some  forty  years 
later,  however,  this  good  understanding  came  to  an  end,  and 
the  Celts  overthrew  and  slew  in  battle  the  Macedonian  ruler 
Ptolemy  Keraunos  about  280  B.C. 

With  the  Romans,  as  with  the  Greeks,  the  relations  of  the 
Celts  were,  during  the  fifth  and  fourth  century  B.C.,  upon  the 
whole  friendly,  and  their  hostility  to  the  Etruscans  must  have 
tended  naturally  to  render  them  and  the  Romans  mutual  allies. 
The  battle  of  Allia,  fought  on  the  i8th  of  July,  390  B.C.,  and 
the  storming  of  Rome  three  days  later,  were  a  punishment 
inflicted  on  the  Romans  by  the  Celts  in  their  exasperation 
at  seeing  the  Roman  ambassadors,  contrary  to  the  right  of 
nations,  assisting  their  enemies  the  Etruscans  under  the  walls 
of  Clusium,  but  these  events  appear  to  have  been  followed  by 
a  long  peace.1 

It  is  only  in  the  third  century  B.C.  that  the  hitherto 
victorious  and  widely-colonising  Celts  appear  to  have  laid 
aside  their  internal  political  unity  and  to  have  lost  their 
hitherto  victorious  tactics.  The  Germans,  over  whom  they 
had  for  centuries  domineered  and  whom  they  had  deprived  of 
their  independence,  rise  against  them  about  300  B.C.,  and 
drive  out  their  former  conquerors  from  between  the  Rhine  and 

*  See  Livy,  book  v.  chap,  xxxvi. :  "  Ibi,  jam  urgentibus  Romanam  urbem 
fatis,  legati  contra  jus  gentium  arma  capiunt,  nee  id  clam  esse  potuit,  quum 
ante  signa  Etruscorum  tres  nobilissimi  fortissimi-que  Romance  juventutis 
pugnarent.  Tantum  eminebat  peregrina  virtus.  Quin  etiam  Q.  Fabius 
erectus  extra  aciem  equo,  ducem  Gallorum,  ferociter  in  ipsa  signa  Etrus- 
corum incursantem,  per  latus  transfixum  hasta,  occidit :  spolia-que  ejus 
legentem  Galli  agnovere,  perque  totem  aciem  Romanum  legatum  esse 
signum  datum  est.  Omissa  inde  in  Clusinos  ira,  receptui  canunt  minantes 
Romanis."  It  was  the  refusal  of  the  Romans  to  give  satisfaction  for  this 
outrage  that  first  brought  the  Gauls  upon  them. 

Jubainville  rejects  as  fabulous  the  self-contradicting  accounts  of  Livy 
about  Roman  wars  with  the  Celts  during  the  next  forty  years  after  the 
storming  of  Rome. 


I 


WHO    WERE   THE  CELTS?  g 

the  Black  Sea,  from  between  the  Elbe  and  the  Maine.  The 
Celts  fall  out  with  the  Romans  and  are  beaten  at  Sentinum  in 
295  B.C.  ;  they  ally  themselves  with  their  former  enemies  the 
Etruscans,  and  are  again  beaten  in  283  B.C.  and  lose  territory. 
They  cease  their  alliance  with  the  Greeks,  and  are  guilty  of 
the  shameful  folly  of  pillaging  the  temple  of  Delphi,  an  act 
of  brigandage  from  which  no  good  results  could  come,  and 
from  which  no  acquisition  of  territory  resulted.  They  estab- 
lished a  colony  in  Asia  Minor  in  278  B.C.,  successfully  indeed, 
but  absolutely  cut  off  from  the  rest  of  the  Celtic  Empire,  and 
such  as  in  any  federation  of  the  Celtic  tribes  could  only  be  a 
source  of  weakness.  Again,  about  the  same  time,  we  see 
Celts  driving  out  and  supplanting  Celts  in  the  districts 
between  the  Rhine,  the  Seine,  and  the  Marne.  In  262  B.C. 
we  find  a  body  of  three  or  four  thousand  Celts  assisting  their 
former  foes  the  Carthaginians  at  the  siege  of  Agrigentum, 
where  they  perish.  Many  of  the  Celts  now  took  foreign 
service.  It  was  at  their  instigation  that  the  war  of  mer- 
cenaries broke  out,  which  at  one  time  brought  Carthage  to 
the  very  verge  of  destruction. 

Only  two  centuries  and  a  half,  as  Jubainville  remarks,  had 
elapsed  since  the  Celts  had  conquered  Spain  from  the  Phoeni- 
cians, and  only  a  hundred  and  thirty  years  since  they  had 
taken  Rome,  but  their  victorious  political  unity  had  already 
begun  to  break  up  and  crumble,  and  now  Rome  and  Carthage 
commenced  that  deadly  duel  in  which  the  victor  was  destined 
to  impose  his  sway  upon  the  ruins  of  the  Celtic  Empire  as 
well  as  on  that  of  Alexander — impose  it,  in  fact,  upon  all  the 
world  then  known  to  the  Greeks,  except  only  the  extreme  east. 

One  of  the  circumstances  which  must  have  helped  most 
materially  to  break  up  the  Celtic  Empire  was  the  successful 
revolt  of  the  Germans  against  their  former  masters.  The 
relation  of  the  German  to  the  Celtic  tribes  is  very  obscure 
and  puzzling.  The  ancient  Greek  historians  of  the  sixth, 
fifth,  and  fourth  centuries  B.C.,  who  tell  us  so  much  about  the 


io        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

Celts,  know  absolutely  nothing  of  the  Germans.  As  early  as 
the  year  500  B.C.  Hecataeus  of  Miletum  is  able  to  name  three 
peoples  and  two  cities  of  India.  But  of  the  Germans,  who 
were  so  much  nearer  to  Marseilles  than  the  nearest  point  of 
India  is  to  the  most  eastern  Greek  colony,  he  says  not  a  word. 
Ephorus,  in  the  fourth  century,  knows  of  only  one  people  to 
the  extreme  west,  and  they  are  the  Celts,  and  their  immediate 
neighbours  are  the  Scythians.  He  knows  of  no  intermediate 
state  or  nation.  Where,  then,  were  the  Germans  ? 

The  explanation  lies,  according  to  Jubainville,  in  this,  that 
even  before  this  period  the  German  had  been  conquered  by 
the  Celt  and  become  subordinated  to  him.  The  Greek 
historians  knew  of  no  independent  state  bordering  upon  the 
Scythians  except  the  Celtic  Empire  alone,  because  none  such 
existed.  In  the  fifth  and  fourth  centuries  B.C.,  and  perhaps  as 
early  as  the  seventh  and  sixth,  the  Germans  had  been  subdued 
and  had  lost  their  independence.  How  and  when  this  took 
place  we  can  only  conjecture,  but  we  have  philological  reasons 
for  believing  that  the  two  races  had  come  into  mutual  contact 
at  a  very  early  date,  probably  as  early  as  the  eleventh  century 
B.C.  The  early  German  name  for  the  Rhine,  for  instance, 
Rino-sy  comes  directly  from  the  primitive  Indo-European  form 
Relno-s  and  not  from  the  Celtic  Reno-s,  which  shows  that  the 
Germans  had  reached  that  river  at  a  time  when  the  Celts  who 
lived  along  it  still  called  it  Reinos,  not  Renos.  The  Celts 
afterwards  changed  the  primitive  ei  into  £,  and  from  their 
carrying  the  form  rein  x  with  them  into  Ireland,  they  had 
probably  done  this  as  early  as  the  ninth  or  tenth  century  B.C., 
for,  as  we  have  shown,  the  Celts  who  inhabited  Ireland  have 
preserved  the  very  oldest  forms  of  the  Celtic  speech. 

On  the  other  hand  the  Celts  always  called  that  Germanic 
tribe  who  accompanied  the  Cimbri  by  the  name  of  Teutoni, 
thus  showing  that  they  first  came  in  contact  with  them  at  a 

1  Rein =a  primitive  reni.  It  occurs  in  the  Amra  Colum-cilli,  meaning 
"of  the  sea." 


WHO    WERE   THE   CELTS?  11 

date  anterior  to  the  phonetic  law  which  introduced  the  so- 
called  explosive  consonants  into  German,  and  which  caused  the 
root  Teutono  (preserved  intact  by  the  Celts)  to  be  turned  into 
Theudono.  From  this  it  follows  that  the  German  and  Celtic 
peoples  were  in  touch  with  one  another  at  a  very  remote  period. 
The  long  subordination  of  the  German  to  the  Celt  has  left 
its  marks  deeply  behind  it,  for  his  "  language  had  remained  un- 
cultivated during  ages  of  slavery,  had  been  reduced  to  the 
condition  of  a  patois,  and  had  forced  the  explosive  consonants  to 
submit  to  modifications  of  sound,  the  analogues  of  which  appear 
in  the  Latin  and  Celtic  languages  during  their  decadence  many 
centuries  after  those  modifications  of  sound  had  deformed  the 
language  of  the  Germans."1 

"  In  fine  the  Germanic  has  created  for  itself  a  place  apart,  amongst 
the  other  Indo-European  languages,  though  the  excessive  poverty 
of  its  conjugation,  which  only  knows  three  tenses — the  present  tense 
and  two  past  tenses — and  which  has  lost  in  particular  the  imperfect 
or  secondary  present,  the  future,  and  the  sigmatic  aorist,  and  which 
has  not  had  strength  to  regain  those  losses  by  the  aid  of  new  com- 
posite tenses,  with  the  exception  of  its  dental  preterite.  The  Celtic 
has  preserved  the  three  tenses  which  the  Germanic  has  lost."  a 

The  Celtic  language  is  in  a  manner  allied  to  that  of  Italy, 
as  is  shown  by  its  grammar^  and  out  of  all  the  circle  of  Indo- 
European  languages  the  Latin  comes  nearest  to  it,  and  it  and 
the  Latin  possess  certain  grammatical  characteristics  in  common 
which  are  absent  from  the  others.3  To  account  for  these  we  may 

1  D'Arbois  de  Jubainville's  "  Premiers  Habitants  de  1'Europe,"  book  iii. 
chap.  iii.  §  15. 

2  D'Arbois  de  Jubainville,  ibid. 

3  "  Some  of  the  oldest  and  deepest  morphological  changes  in  Aryan 
speech  are  those  which  affect  the  Celto-Italic  language.     Such  are  the 
formation  of  a  new  passive,  a  new  future,  and  a  new  perfect.     Hence  it  is 
believed  that  the  Celto-Italic  languages  may  have  separated  from  the  rest 
while  the  other  Aryan  languages  remained  united."    Taylor's  "  Origin  of 
the  Aryans,"  p.  257.    Mr.  Taylor  is  here  alluding  to  the  passive  in  r  and  the 
future  in  bo,  but    my  friend,  M.  Georges  Dottin,  in  his  laborious  and 
ample  volume  published  last  year,  "  Les  desinences  en  R,"  has  shown  that 
the  r-passives,  at  least,  are,  in  Italic  and  Celtic,  independent  creations. 


12        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

assume  what  may  be  called  an  Italo-Celtic  period,  prior,  pro- 
bably, to  the  establishment  of  the  Italian  races  in  Italy,  perhaps 
some  twelve  hundred  years  before  Christ. 

On  the  other  hand  such  mutual  influence  as  Celtic  and 
German  have  exercised  upon  each  other  is  restricted  merely  to 
the  vocabularies  of  the  languages,  for  when  these  races  came  in 
contact  with  each  other  the  two  tongues  had  been  already 
completely  formed,  and  the  grammar  of  the  one  could  no  longer 
be  affected  by  that  of  the  other. 

That  there  existed  a  kind  of  Celto-Germanic  civilisation  is 
easily  proved  by  the  number  of  words  common  to  each  lan- 
guage which  are  not  found  in  the  other  Indo-European  tongues, 
or  which  if  they  occur  in  them,  are  found  bearing  a  different 
meaning.  The  two  peoples,  the  dominant  Celts  and  the 
subject  Germans,  obeyed  the  same  chiefs  and  fought  in  the 
same  armies,  and  naturally  a  certain  number  of  words  became 
common  to  both.  It  is  noticeable,  however,  that  none  of  the 
terms  relating  to  either  gods  or  priests  or  religious  ceremonies 
bear  in  either  language  the  slightest  resemblance  to  one  another. 
It  was  probably  this  difference  of  religion  which  preserved  the 
conquered  people  from  being  assimilated,  and  which  was  ulti- 
mately the  cause  of  the  successful  uprising  of  the  servile  tribes. 

The  words  which  are  common  to  the  Germanic  and  the 
Celtic  languages  belong  either  to  the  art  of  government, 
political  institutions,  and  law,  or  else  to  the  art  of  war.  These 
d'Arbois  de  Jubainville  divides  ioto  two  classes — those  which  can 
be  phonetically  proved  to  be  of  Celtic  origin,  and  those  which, 
though  almost  certainly  of  Celtic  origin,  yet  cannot  be  proved 
to  be  so  to  actual  demonstration.  Such  important  German 
words1  as  Reich  and  Ami  are  beyond  all  doubt  Celtic  loan- 


1  These  loan-words  "  can  hardly  be  later  than  the  time  of  the  Gaulish 
Empire  founded  by  Ambicatus  in  the  sixth  century  B.C.  We  gather  from 
them  that  at  this  or  some  earlier  period  the  culture  and  political  organisa- 
tion of  the  Teutons  was  inferior  to  that  of  the  Celts,  and  that  the  Teutons 
must  have  been  subjected  to  Celtic  rule.  It  would  seem  from  the  linguistic 


WHO    WERE   THE  CELTS?  13 

words,  as  are  probably  such  familiar  vocables  as  Bann,  fret, 
Bid,  Geisel,  leihen,  Erbey  Werth*  all  terms  relating  to  law  and 
government,  imposed  on  or  borrowed  by  the  conquered  Germans. 
From  the  Celts  come  also  all  such  words  concerning  war  and 
fighting  as  are  common  to  both  nations,  such  as  Held,  Heer, 
Sieg,  Beute.  From  the  Celts  too  come  names  of  domiciles,  as 
Burg,  Dorf  Zaun,  also  of  localities  as  Land,  F/ur,  Furty  and  the 
English  woody  and  of  domestic  aids  as  Pferd,  Bell,  and  the  Anglo- 
Saxon  Vir  (a  torque).  They  too  seem  to  have  been  the  first 
in  Northern  Europe  to  have  practised  the  art  of  medicine,  for 
from  the  Celtic  'comes  the  Gothic  lekels — English  leech."2 
Certain  other  domestic  words,  such  as  Eisen,  Loth,  and  Leder, 
both  races  have  in  common. 

Despite  the  long  subjection  of  the  Germans  they  never  lost 
their  language,  nor  were  they  assimilated  by  the  conquering 
race,  a  fate  from  which  they  were  probably  preserved,  as  we  have 
said,  by  the  complete  difference  of  their  sacred  customs.  There  is 
hardly  one  name  in  all  the  Teutonic  theogony  which  even  faintly 
resembles  a  Celtic  one.3  Their  funeral  rites  were  different, 


evidence  that  the  Teutons  got  from  their  Celtic  and  Lithuanian  neighbours 
their  first  knowledge  of  agriculture  and  metals,  of  many  weapons  and 
articles  of  food  and  clothing,  as  well  as  the  most  elementary  social, 
religious,  and  political  conceptions,  the  words  for  nation,  people,  king,  and 
magistrate  being,  for  instance,  loan-words  from  Celtic  or  Lithuanian." — 
Taylor's  "  Origin  of  the  Aryans,"  p.  234. 

1  Also  the  Gothic  word  magus  ("  a  slave"),  old  Irish  mug,  or  mogh,  liugan 
("  to  swear  "),  Irish  luigh,  dulgs  (a  debt),  Irish  dualgus,  &c. 

a  Irish  liaig.  The  Finns  again  borrowed  this  word  from  the  Germans. 
It  is  the  root  of  the  name  Lee,  in  most  Irish  families  of  that  surname, 
indicating  that  their  ancestors  practised  leech-craft. 

3  Rhys  indeed  compares  the  great  Teutonic  sky-god  Woden  with  the 
Welsh  Gwydion  and  Thor  with  the  Celtic  Taranucus  or  Thunder-God, 
and  is  of  opinion  that  a  good  deal  of  Teutonic  mythology  was  drawn  from 
Celtic  sources — a  theory  which,  when  we  consider  how  much  the 
Germans  are  indebted  to  the  Celts  for  their  culture-terms,  may  well  be 
true  with  regard  to  later  mythological  conceptions  and  mythological  saga. 
However,  it  is  now  generally  acknowledged  that  while  all  the  nations  of 
Aryan  origin  possess  a  common  inheritance  of  language,  any  inheritance  of 
a  common  mythology,  if  such  exist  at  all,  must  be  reduced  to  very  small 


H        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

the  Germans  burning,  but  the  Celts  burying  their  dead.  Their 
systems  of  priesthood  were  absolutely  different,  that  of  the 
Celts  being  always  an  institution  distinct  from  the  kingship, 
while  that  of  the  Germans  was  for  centuries  vested  in  the  head 
of  the  tribe  or  family.  The  priests  of  the  Germans,  even  after 
the  functions  of  priesthood  had  been  severed  from  those  of 
kingship,  still  exercised  criminal  jurisdiction,  and  even  in  the 
army  a  soldier  could  not  be  punished  without  their  sanction. 
On  the  other  hand  the  milder  druids  of  the  Celts  appear 
to  have  never  taken  part  in  the  judgment  of  delinquents 
against  the  State.  Caesar  makes  no  mention  of  their  ever 
acting  as  judges  in  criminal  cases.  The  culprit  guilty  or 
treason  was  not  put  to  death  by  them  but  by  the  citizens — 
ab  civitate.* 

It  was  about  the  year  300  B.C.  that  the  German  tribes,  so 
long  incorporated  with  the  Celts,  at  last  rose  against  their 
masters  and  broke  their  yoke  from  off  their  necks.  They 
succeeded  in  dislodging  the  Celts  from  the  country  which  lies 
between  the  Rhine  and  the  North  Sea,  between  the  Elbe  and 
the  basin  of  the  Maine.  It  was  in  consequence  of  this  blow 
that  the  Celtic  Belgae  were  obliged  to  withdraw  from  the 
right  bank  of  the  Rhine  to  the  left,  and  to  occupy  the  country 
between  it,  the  Seine,  and  the  Marne,  whilst  other  tribes 
settled  themselves  along  the  Rhine,  and  others  again  marched 
upon  Asia  Minor  and  founded  their  famous  colony  of  Galatia 
in  the  extreme  east  of  Europe,  to  whom,  over  three  centuries 
later,  St.  Paul  addressed  his  epistle,  and  whose  descendants  were 
found  by  St.  Jerome  in  the  fourth  century  still  speaking 
Celtic.^ 

proportions.  The  complete  difference  between  the  names  of  the  Indian, 
Hellenic,  Italic,  Teutonic,  and  Celtic  gods  is  very  striking. 

1  "  De  Bello  Gallico,"  book  vii.  chap.  iv. 

2  Which  he  speaks  of  as  a  mark  of  folly,  in  just  the  same  tone  as  an 
Anglicised  Hibernian  does  of  the  Irish-speaking  of  the  native  Celts.     His 
words  are  worth  quoting  : — "  Antiquae  stultitiae  usque  hodie  manent  vesti- 
gia. Unum  est  quod  inferimus,  et  promissum  in  exordioreddimus,  Galatas 


WHO    WERE   THE   CELTS?  15 

It  is  no  longer  necessary  to  follow  the  fortunes  of  the  Conti- 
nental Celts,  to  trace  the  history  of  their  Galatian  colony,  to 
tell  how  they  lost  Spain,  to  recount  the  exploits  of  Marius  and 
Sylla,  the  wars  of  Caesar,  the  heroic  struggle  of  Vercingetorix, 
the  division  of  Gaul  by  Octavius,  the  oppression  of  the  Romans, 
and  finally  the  inroads  of  the  barbaric  hordes  of  Visigoths, 
Burgundians,  and  Francs.  It  is  sufficient  to  say  that  already 
in  the  third  century  of  our  era  Gaul  had  lost  every  trace  of  its 
ancient  Celtic  organisation,  and  in  its  laws,  habits,  and  civil 
administration  had  become  purely  Roman.  The  upper  classes 
had,  like  the  Irish  upper  classes  of  this  and  of  the  last  century, 
thrown  aside  every  vestige  of  Gaulish  nationality,  and  piqued 
themselves  upon  the  perfection  with  which  they  had  Romanised 
themselves,  as  the  Irish  upper  classes  do  upon  the  thoroughness 
with  which  they  have  become  Anglicised.  They  threw  aside 
their  Gaulish  names  to  adopt  others  more  consonant  to  Latin  ears, 
as  the  Irish  are  doing  at  this  moment.  Above  all  they  prided 
themselves  upon  speaking  only  the  language  of  their  conquerors, 
and  like  so  many  of  the  Irish  of  to-day  they  derided  their  ancient 
language  as  lingua  rustica.  It,  however,  banished  from  the 
mouths  of  the  nobles  and  officials,  lived  on  in  the  villages  and 
rural  parts  of  Gaul,  as  it  has  to  this  day  done  in  Ireland,  until 
the  sixth  century,  when  it  finally  gave  ground  and  retired  into 
the  mountains  and  wastes  of  Armorica,  where  it  coalesced 
with  the  Welsh  which  the  large  colony  of  British  brought  in 
with  them  when  flying  from  the  Saxon,  and  where  it,  in  the 

excepto  sermone  Graeco  quo  omnis  Oriens  loquitur  propriam  linguam 
eamdem  pene  habere  quam  Treviros,  nee  referre  si  aliqua  exinde  corrum- 
perint,  cum  et  Aphri  Phcenicum  linguam  nonnulla  ex  parte  mutaverint,  et 
ipsa  Latinitas  et  regionibus  quotidie  mutetur  et  tempore."  His  insinuation 
that  they  spoke  their  own  language  badly  is  also  thoroughly  Anglo- 
Hibernian,  reminding  one  very  much  of  Sir  William  Petty  and  others.  See 
Jerome's  preface  to  his  "  Commentary  on  the  Epistle  to  the  Galatians," 
book  vii.  p.  429.  Migne's  edition.  In  another  passage  he  is  more  compli- 
mentary, and  calls  them  the  Conquerors  of  the  East  and  West — "  Gallo- 
graecia  [i.e.,  Galatia]  in  qua  consederunt  Orientis  Occidentisque  victores." 
See  his  "  Epistle  to  Rusticus,"  book  i.  p.  935.  Migne. 


1 6        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

Cymraeg  form  of   it,  is  still  spoken   by  a  couple  of  million 
people.1 

1  Although  Celtic  has  so  long  disappeared  out  of  France  with  the 
exception  of  Armorica,  it  has  left  its  traces  deeply  behind  it  upon  the 
French  language.  This  is  also  true  even  of  linguistic  sounds.  "Tous 
les  sons  simples  du  francais  se  retrouvent  dans  le  breton,  et  tous  ceux 
du  breton  a  1'exception  d'un  seul  (le  ch  on  le  x)  sont  aussi  dans  notre 
langue  :  I'M  et  \'e  tres-ouvert,  Ve  muet  si  rare  partout  ailleurs,  le  j  pur 
inconnu  a  toute  1' Europe,  les  deux  sons  mouilles  du  n  et  du  I  (comme 
dans  les  mots  bataille  et  dignite)  sont  communs  a  la  langue  fran^aise 
et  aux  idiomes  celtiques,"  says  Demogeot.  Even  in  French  customary 
law  there  are  "  distinct  and  numerous  traces  "  of  old  Gaulish  habits  and 
legislation,  as  Laferriere  has  pointed  out  in  his  history  of  the  civil  law 
of  Rome  and  France.  Nor  is  this  to  be  in  the  least  wondered  at,  when 
we  remember  that  nineteen-twentieths  of  the  modern  French  blood  is 
computed  to  be  that  of  the  aboriginal  races — Aquitanians,  Celts,  and  Belgae  ; 
whilst  out  of  the  remaining  twentieth  "  the  descendants  of  the  Teutonic  in- 
vaders— Franks,  Burgundians,  Goths,  and  Normans  doubtless  contributed 
a  more  numerous  element  to  the  population  than  the  Romans,  who,  though 
fewer  in  number  than  any  of  the  others,  imposed  their  language  on  the 
whole  country  "  (see  Taylor's  "  Origin  of  the  Aryans,"  p.  204).  The  bulk 
of  the  French  nation  is  probably  pre-Celtic.  The  modern  Frenchman  does 
not  at  all  resemble  the  Gallic  type  as  described  by  the  Greek  and  Roman 
writers. 


CHAPTER  II 

EARLIEST    ALLUSIONS    TO    IRELAND    FROM    FOREIGN    SOURCES 

OF  all  the  tribes  of  the  Celts,  and  indeed  of  all  their  neigh- 
bours in  the  west  of  Europe,  the  children  of  Milesius  have  been 
at  once  blessed  and  cursed  beyond  their  fellows,  for  on  the 
shores  of  their  island  alone  did  the  Roman  eagle  check  its 
victorious  flight,  and  they  alone  of  the  nations  of  western 
Europe  were  neither  moulded  nor  crushed  into  his  own  shape 
by  the  conqueror  of  Gaul  and  Britain. 

Undisturbed  by  the  Romans,  unconquered  though  shattered 
by  the  Norsemen,  unsubdued  though  sore-stricken  by  the 
Normans,  and  still  struggling  with  the  Saxons,  the  Irish  Gael 
alone  has  preserved  a  record  of  his  own  past,  and  preserved  it 
in  a  literature  of  his  own,  for  a  length  of  time  and  with  a  con- 
tinuity which  outside  of  Greece  has  no  parallel  in  Europe. 

His  own  account  of  himself  is  that  his  ancestors,  the  Milesians, 
or  children  of  Miledh,1  came  to  Ireland  from  Spain  about  the 
year  1000  B.C.,2  and  dispossessed  the  Tuatha  De  Danann  who 

1  Milesius  is  the  ordinary  Latinised  form  of  the  Irish  Miledh  ;  the  real 
name  of  Milesius  was  Golamh,  but  he  was  surnamed  Miledh  Easpain,  or 
the  Champion  of  Spain.  He  himself  never  landed  in  Ireland. 

3  1016  according  to  O'Flaherty,  in  the  eighth  century  B.C.  according  to 

Charles  O' Conor  of  Belanagare,  but  as  far  back  as  1700  B.C.  according  to 

.  the  chronology  of  the  "  Four  Masters."    Nennius,  the  Briton  who  wrote  in 

B  17 


1 8        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

had  come  from  the  north  of  Europe,  as  these  had  previously 
dispossessed  their  kinsmen  the  Firbolg,  who  had  arrived  from 
Greece. 

Such  a  suggestion,  however,  despite  the  continuity  and 
volume  of  Irish  tradition  which  has  always  supported  it,  appears 
open  to  more  than  one  rationalistic  objection,  the  chiefest 
being  that  the  voyage  from  Spain  to  Ireland  would  be  one  of 
some  six  hundred  miles,  hardly  to  be  attempted  by  the  early 
Irish  barks  composed  of  wickerwork  covered  with  hides,  fragile 
crafts  which  could  hardly  hope  to  live  through  the  rough  waters 
of  the  Bay  of  Biscay  and  the  Atlantic  on  a  voyage  from  Spain, 
or  through  the  Mediterranean  and  the  Atlantic  on  a  voyage 
from  Greece. 

On  the  other  hand,  if  we  assume  that  our  ancestors  passed 
over  from  Gaul  into  Britain  and  thence  into  Ireland,  we 
shall  find  it  fit  in  with  many  other  facts.  To  begin  with,  the 
voyage  from  Gaul  to  Britain  is  one  of  only  some  two  and 
twenty  miles,  and  from  Britain  to  Ireland,  at  its  narrowest 
point,  is  hardly  twelve.  The  splendid  physique,  too,  of  the 
Irish,1  which  is  now  alas  !  sadly  degenerated  through  depression, 

the  time  of  Charlemagne,  gives  two  different  accounts  of  the  landing  of 
the  Irish,  one  evidently  representing  the  British  tradition,  and  the  other 
that  of  the  Irish  themselves,  of  which  he  says  sic  mihi  peritissimi  Scotornm 
nunciaverunt.  Both  these  accounts  make  the  Irish  come  from  Spain,  the 
first  being  that  three  sons  of  a  certain  Miles  of  Spain  landed  in  Ireland 
from  Spain  at  the  third  attempt.  According  to  what  the  Irish  told  him 
they  reached  Ireland  from  Spain  1,002  years  after  flying  from  Egypt. 

1  Even  Giraldus  Cambrensis,  that  most  bigoted  of  anti-Irishmen,  could 
nevertheless  write  thus  of  the  natives  in  the  twelfth  century.  "  In  Ireland 
man  retains  all  his  majesty.  Nature  alone  has  moulded  the  Irish,  and  as 
if  to  show  what  she  can  do  has  given  them  countenances  of  exquisite 
colour,  and  bodies  of  great  beauty,  symmetry,  and  strength."  This  testi- 
mony agrees  with  what  Caesar  says  of  the  Celts  of  Gaul,  whose  large  per- 
sons he  compares  with  the  short  stature  of  the  Romans,  and  admires  their 
mirifica  corpora.  Strabo  says  of  a  Celtic  tribe,  the  Coritavi,  "  to  show  how 
tall  they  are,  I  myself  saw  some  of  their  young  men  at  Rome,  and  they 
were  taller  by  six  inches  than  any  one  else  in  the  city."  The  Belgic  Gauls 
are  uniformly  described  as  tall,  large-limbed,  and  fair,  and  Silius  Italicus 
speaks  of  the  huge  limbs  and  golden  locks  of  the  Boii  who  gave  their  name 


ALLUSIONS  FROM  FOREIGN  SOURCES     19 

poverty,  famine,  and  the  rooting  out  of  the  best  blood,  but  which 
has  struck  during  the  course  of  history  such  numerous  foreign 
observers,  seems  certainly  to  connect  the  Irish  by  a  family 
likeness  with  the  Gauls,  as  these  have  been  described  to  us  by 
the  Romans,  and  not  with  the  Greeks  or  the  swarthy,  sun- 
burnt Iberians.  Tacitus  also,  writing  less  than  a  century  after 
Christ,  tells  us  that  the  Irish  in  disposition,  temper,  and  habits, 
differ  but  little  from  the  Britons,  and  we  find  in  Britain,  North 
Gaul,  and  Germany,  tribes  of  the  same  nomenclature  as  several 
of  those  Irish  tribes  whose  names  are  recorded  by  Ptolemy 
about  the  year  150.* 

On  the  one  hand,  then,  we  have  the  ancient  universal  Irish 
traditions,  backed  up  by  all  the  authority  of  the  bards,  the 
annalists  and  the  shanachies,  that  the  Milesians — who  are  the 
ancestors  of  most  of  the  present  Irish — came  to  Ireland  direct 
from  Spain  ;  and,  on  the  other  hand,  we  have  these  rationalistic 
grounds  for  believing  that  Ireland  was  more  probably  peopled 
from  Gaul  and  Britain.  The  question  cannot  here  be  carried 
further,  except  to  remark  that  in  an  age  ignorant  of  geography 
the  term  Spain  may  have  been  used  very  loosely,  and  may  rather 
have  implied  some  land  oversea,  rather  than  any  particular 
land.2 

to  Bavaria  (Boio-varia)  and  to  Bohemia  (Boio-haims).  They  were  probably 
the  ruling  race  in  Gaul,  but  the  type  is  now  very  rarely  seen  there,  the 
aristocratic  Celts  having  been  largely  wiped  out  by  war,  as  in  Ireland,  and 
having  when  shorn  of  their  power  become  amalgamated  with  the  Ligurians 
and  other  pre-Celtic  peoples. 

1  As  the  Brigantes,  Menapii,  and  Cauci. 

2  Buchanan  the  Scotchman  (1506-81),  having    urged  some  of  these 
objections  against  the  Irish  tradition,  is  thus  fairly  answered  by  Keating, 
writing  in  Irish,  about  half  a  century  after  Buchanan's  death  :  "  The  first 
of  these  reasons,"  says  Keating  (to  prove  that  the  Irish  came  from  Gaul), 
"  he  deduces  from  the  fact  that  Gaul  was  formerly  so  populous  that  the 
part  of  it  called  Gallia  Lugdunensis  would  of  itself  furnish  300,000  fighting 
men,  and  that  it  was  therefore  likely  that  it  had  sent  forth  some  such 
hordes  to  occupy  Ireland,, as  were  the  tribes  of  the  Gauls.     My  answer  to 
that  is  that  the  author  himself  knew  nothing  of  the  specific  time  at  which 
the  Sons  of  Miledh  arrived  in  Ireland,  and  that  he   was  consequently 
perfectly  ignorant  as  to  whether  France  was  populous  or  waste  at  that 


20        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

If  Ireland  were  not — thanks  to  her  native  annalists,  her 
autochtonous  traditions  and  her  bardic  histories — to  a  great 
extent  independent  of  classical  and  foreign  authors,  she  would 
have  fared  badly  indeed,  so  far  as  history  goes,  lying  as  she 
does  in  so  remote  a  corner  of  the  world,  and  having  been 
untrodden  by  the  foot  of  recording  Greek  or  masterful 
Roman.  There  are,  however,  some  few  allusions  to  the 
island  to  be  found,  of  which,  perhaps,  the  earliest  is  the  quota- 
tion in  Avienus,  who  writing  about  the  year  380  mentions  the 
account  of  the  voyage  of  Himilco,  a  Phoenician,1  to  Ireland 
about  the  year  510  B.C.,  who  said  in  his  account  that  Erin  was 
called  "Sacra"2  by  the  ancients,  that  its  people  navigated  the 
vast  sea  in  hide-covered  barks,  and  that  its  land  was  populous 
and  fertile.  In  the  Argonautics  of  the  pseudo-Orpheus,  which 
may  have  been  written  about  500  B.C.,  the  lernianS — that  is 

epoch.  And  even  though  the  country  were  as  populous  as  he  states,  when 
the  Sons  of  Miledh  came  to  Ireland,  it  does  not  follow  that  we  must 
necessarily  understand  that  it  was  the  country  whence  they  emigrated  ;  for 
why  should  it  be  supposed  to  be  more  populous  at  that  time  than  Spain, 
the  country  they  really  did  come  from  ? " 

1  Aristotle,  too,  mentions  the  discovery  by  the  Phoenicians,  of  an 
island  supposed  to  be  Ireland,  rich  in  forest  and  river  and  fruit,  which, 
however,  this  account  would  make  out  to  have  been  uninhabited  : 
iv  ry  QdXaaoy  ry  f£o>  'HpaicXeiwv  crijX&v  <f>daiv  VTTO  Kap^j^oi/iwv  vijaov 
evpeQijvai  tpr}\Li\v,  l^ovaav  vXrjv  rt  TravToficnrij  KO.I  TroTafjibvQ  TrXwrouf,  Kal 
TOIQ  XonroiQ  jcapTroif  Oavfiaairrjv,  airk^ovaav  Se.  TrXeiovw  rip,£.pu>v,  etc. 
Ireland  was  splendidly  wooded  until  after  the  Cromwellian  wars,  and  not 
unfrequently  we  meet  allusions  in  the  old  literature  to  the  first  clearances 
in  different  districts,  associated  with  the  names  of  those  who  cleared  them. 

3  Sacra  is  apparently  a  translation  of  'lepa  =  Eiriu,  old  form  of  Eire 
now  called  Erin,  which  last  is  really  an  oblique  case. 

3  vrjffoiffiv  'Itpvlaiv,  and  vijaov  'lepviSa.  The  names  by  which  Ireland 
and  its  inhabitants  were  known  to  the  writers  of  antiquity  are  very  various, 
as  'lovepma,  'lovipvoi,  Juverna,  Juberna,  Iverna,  Hibernia,  Hibernici,  Hiber- 
nienses,  Jouvernia,  Ouepi/icr,  'lovpvia,  and  even  Vernia  and  Bepv/a.  St. 
Patrick  in  his  confessions  calls  the  land  Hyberione  and  speaks  of  Hibernae 
Gentes  and  "  filii  Scotorum."  There  can  be  little  doubt  that  Aristotle's 
'Ispvjj,  the  vrjffov  'Itpvlda  of  the  Argonautics  and  Diodorus'  "Ipif  represent 
the  same  country.  Here  are  Keating's  remarks  on  it:  "An  t-aonmhadh 
hainm  deag  Juvernia  do  reir  Ptolomeus,  no  Juverna  do  reir  Sholinuis,  no 
lerna  do  reir  Claudianus,  no  Vernia  do  reir  Eustatius  ;  measaim  nach 


ALLUSIONS  FROM  FOREIGN  SOURCES    21 

apparently  the  Irish — Isle  is  mentioned.  Aristotle  knew 
about  it  too.  lerne,  he  says,  is  a  very  large  island  beyond  the 
Celts.  Strabo,  writing  soon  after  the  birth  of  Christ,  describes 
its  position  and  shape,  also  calling  it  lerne,  but  according  to 
his  account — which  he  acknowledges,  however,  that  he  does 
not  make  on  good  authority — it  is  barely  habitable  and  its 
people  are  the  most  utter  savages  and  cannibals.1  Hibernia, 
says  Julius  Caesar,  is  esteemed  half  the  size  of  Britain  and  is  as 
distant  from  it  as  Gaul  is.  Diodorus,  some  fifty  years  before 
Christ,  calls  it  Iris,  and  says  it  was  occupied  by  Britons.2 
Pomponius  Mela,  in  the  first  century  of  our  era,  calls  Ireland 
Iverna,  and  says  that  "so  great  was  the  luxuriance  of  grass 
there  as  to  cause  the  cattle  to  burst  "  !  Tacitus  a  little  later, 
about  the  year  82,  telling  us  how  Agricola  crossed  the  Clyde 
and  posted  troops  in  that  part  of  the  country  which  looked 
toward  Ireland,  says  that  Hibernia  "  in  soil  and  climate,  in  the 
disposition,  temper,  and  habits  of  its  people,  differed  but  little 
from  Britain,  and  that  its  approaches  and  harbours  were  better 
known  through  traffic  and  merchants."  3 

bhfuil  do  cheill  san  deifir  ata  idir  na  h-ughdaraibh  sin  do  leith  an  fhocail-se 
Hibernia,  acht  nar  thuigeadar  cread  6  ttainig  an  focal  fein  7  da  reir  sin  go 
ttug  gach  aon  fo  leith  amus  uaidh  fein  air,  agus  is  de  sin  thainig  an 
mhalairt  ud  ar  an  bhfocal."  (See  Haliday's  "  Keating,"  p.  119.) 

1  'Igpj/?/  TTfjoi  ?IQ  ow^v  t%o^6v  Xlyeiv  <ra0£f,  except  that  the  inhabitants 
are  avQpo>iro<f>ayoi  and  7ro\u0ayoi  !     TOVQ  re  Trarkpaq  TfXtvT^aavraQ  KctTea- 
OIEIV  tv  KaXy  Tidepevoi.     He  adds,  however,  TCLVTO.  d'ovra)  Xeyofiev  wf  OVK 
t-XovTEQ  dZioTricrrovQ  /taprupaf  (Book  IV.,  ch.  v.).     In  another  passage  he 
shows  how  utterly  misinformed  he  must  have  been  by  saying  that  'lepvrj 
was   d9\iui£  Se  Sia   ^t»x°C   oiKovfiivijv  werre    TO.   iireKeiva    vopi&iv   doiicrjTa. 
(II.  5).     Elsewhere  he  calls  the  inhabitants  dyptwrepoi  r&v  Bperavwj/. 

2  T(JJV  BperraixSv,  TOVQ  KCLTOIKOVVTCIQ  TJ]V  6vop,a^onsvr}v"Ipiv. 

3  "  Solum  ccelumque  et  ingenia  cultusque  hominum  haud  multum  a 
Britannia  different ;  in  melius  aditus  portusque  per  commercia  et  nego- 
ciatores  cogniti."    This  employment  of  in  before  melius  is  curious,  and  the 
passage,  which  Diefenbach  in  his  Celtica  malignly  calls  the  "  Lieblings- 
stelle  der  irischen  Schriftsteller,"  is  not  universally  accepted  as  meaning 
that  the  harbours  of  Ireland  were  better  known  than  those  of  Great 
Britain  ;  but  when  we  consider  the  antiquarian  evidence  for  ancient  Irish 
civilisation,  and  that  in  artistic  treatment,  and  fineness  of  manufacture 


22        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

Ptolemy,  writing  about  the  year  150,  unconsciously  bears 
out  to  some  extent  what  Tacitus  had  said  of  Ireland's 
harbours  being  better  known  than  those  of  Britain,  for  he  has 
left  behind  him  a  more  accurate  account  of  Ireland  than  of 
Britain,  giving  in  all  over  fifty  Irish  names,  about  nine  of 
which  have  been  identified,  and  mentioning  the  names  of  two 
coast  towns,  seven  inland  towns,  and  seventeen  tribes,  some  of 
which,  as  we  have  said,  nearly  resemble  the  names  of  tribes  in 
Britain  and  North  Gaul.  Solinus,  about  A.D.  238,  is  the  first 
to  tell  us  that  Hibernia  has  no  snakes — observe  this  curious 
pre-Patrician  evidence  which  robs  our  national  saint  of  one  of 
his  laurels — saying,  like  Pomponius  Mela,  that  it  has  luxurious 
pastures,  and  adding  the  curious  intelligence  that,  "  warlike 
beyond  the  rest  of  her  sex,  the  Hibernian  mother  places  the 
first  morsel  of  food  in  her  child's  mouth  with  the  point  of  the 
sword."  Eumenius  mentions  the  Hibernians  about  the  year 
306  in  his  panegyric  on  Constantine,  saying  that  until  now 
the  Britons  had  been  accustomed  to  fight  only  Pictish  and 
Hibernian  enemies.  In  378  Ammianus  Marcellinus  mentions 
the  Irish  under  the  name  of  Scots,  saying  that  the  Scotti  and 
Attacotti1  commit  dreadful  depredations  in  Britain,  and 

Irish  bronzes  are  fully  equal  to  those  of  Great  Britain,  and  her  gold  objects 
infinitely  more  numerous  and  every  way  superior,  there  seems  no  reason 
to  doubt  that  the  text  of  Tacitus  must  be  translated  as  above,  and  not  sub- 
jected to  such  forced  interpretations  as  that  the  harbours  and  approaches 
of  Ireland  were  better  known  than  the  land  itself! 

1  "  Picti  Saxonesque  et  Scotti  et  Attacotti  Britannos  aerumnis  vexavere 
continuis."  These  Attacotti  appear  to  have  been  an  Irish  tribe.  There  is  a 
great  deal  of  controversy  as  to  who  they  were.  St.  Jerome  twice  mentions 
them  in  connection  with  the  Scots  (i.e.,  the  Irish)  :  Scotorum  ct  Atticotonim 
ritu,  they  have  their  wives  and  children  in  common,  as  Plato  recommends 
in  his  Republic  !  (Migne's  edition,  Book  I.,  p.  735.)  He  says  that  he  himself 
saw  some  of  them  when  he  was  young,  "  Ipse  adolescens  in  Gallia  viderim 
Attacottos,  Scotorum  (one  would  expect  Attacotorum)  natio  uxores  proprias 
non  habet.  The  name  strongly  resembles  Cassar's  Aduatuci  and  Diodorus's 
ArovariKoi  and  certainly  appears  to  be  same  as  the  Gaelic  Aitheach-Tuatha, 
so  well  known  in  Irish  history,  a  name  which  O'Curry  translates  by 
"  rent-paying  tribes,"  probably  of  non-Milesian  origin.  These  rose  in  the 
first  century  against  their  Milesian  masters  and  massacred  them.  If  as 


ALLUSIONS  FROM  FOREIGN  SOURCES    23 

Claudian  a  few  years  later  speaks  rather  hyperbolically  of  the 
Irish  invasion  of  Britain  ;  "the  Scot  (/.*.,  the  Irishman),"  he 
says,  "  moved  all  lerne  against  us,  and  the  Ocean  foamed  under 
his  hostile  oars — a  Roman  legion  curbs  the  fierce  Scot,  through 
Stilicho's  care  I  feared  not  the  darts  of  the  Scots — Icy  Erin 
wails  over  the  heaps  of  her  Scots."1  The  Irish  expeditions 
against  both  Gaul  and  Britain  became  more  frequent  towards 
the  end  of  the  fourth  century,  and  at  last  the  unfortunate 
Britons,  driven  to  despair,  and  having  in  vain  appealed  to  the 
now  disorganised  Romans  to  aid  them,  sooner  than  stand  the 
fury  of  the  Irish  and  Picts  threw  themselves  into  the  arms  of 
the  Saxons.2 

It  is  towards  the  middle  or  close  of  the  fourth  century  that 
we  come  into  much  closer  historical  contact  with  the  Irish, 
and  indeed  we  know  with  some  certainty  a  good  deal  about 
their  internal  history,  manners,  laws,  language,  and  institutions 
from  that-  time  to  the  present.  Of  course  if  we  can  trust 
Irish  sources  we  know  a  great  deal  about  them  for  even  seven 
or  eight  hundred  years  before  this.  The  early  Irish  annalist, 
Tighearnach,3  who  died  in  1088,  and  who  had  of  course  the 

Thierry  thinks  the  east  and  centre  of  Gaul  were  Gaelic  speaking,  they  too 
may  have  had  their  Aitheach-Tuatha,  which  may  have  been  a  general  name 
for  certain  non-Celtic  tribes  reduced  by  the  Celts.  According  to  the 
Itinerarium  of  Ricardus  Corinensis  quoted  by  Diefenbach,  Book  III.,  there 
were  Attacotti  along  the  banks  of  the  Clyde  :  "  Clottce  ripas  accolebant  Atta- 
cotti,  gens  toil  aliquando  Britannice  formidanda" 

1  "  Scotorum  cumulos  flevit  glacialis  lerne"  ("glacialis,"  of  course,  only 
when  looked  at  from  a  southern  point  of  view.  Strabo,  as  we  have  seen, 
said  the  island  was  scarcely  habitable  from  cold). 

" — Totam  quum  Scotus  lernen 
Movit  et  infesto  spumavit  remige  Tethys. " 

It  is  probably  mere  hyperbole  of  Claudian  to  say  that  the  Roman  chased 

the  Irish  out  to  sea, 

" — nee  falso  nomine  Pictos 
Edomuit,  Scotumque  vago  mucrone  secutus 
Fregit  Hyperboreas  velis  audacibus  undas." 

3  These  appear  in  Britain  in  the  middle  of  the  fifth  century,  in  449 
according  to  the  Saxon  Chronicle,  which  is  probably  substantially  correct. 
3  Pronounced  "  Teear-nach." 


24        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

records  of  the  earliest  Irish  writers — so  far  as  they  had  escaped 
extinction  by  the  Danes — before  his  eyes  when  he  wrote,  and 
who  quotes  frequently  and  judiciously  from  Joseph  us,  St.  Jerome, 
Bede,  and  other  authors,  was  of  opinion,  after  weighing  evidence 
and  comparing  Irish  with  foreign  writers,  that  the  monumenta 
Scotorum,  or  records  of  the  Irish  prior  to  Cimbaeth  (/.*.,  about 
300  B.C.)  were  uncertain.  This  means  that  from  that  time 
forwards  he  at  least  considered  that  the  substance  of  Irish 
history  as  handed  down  to  us  might,  to  say  the  least  of  it,  be 
more  or  less  relied  upon.  Cimbaeth  was  the  founder  of 
Emania,  the  capital  of  Ulster,  the  home  of  the  Red  Branch 
Knights,  which  flourished  for  600  years  and  which  figures  so 
conspicuously  in  the  saga-cycle  of  Cuchulain. 

What  then — for  we  pass  over  for  the  present  the  colonies  of 
Partholan,  the  Tuatha  De  Danann,  and  the  Nemedians, 
leaving  them  to  be  dealt  with  among  the  myths — have  our 
native  bards  and  annalists  to  say  of  these  six  or  seven  centuries  ? 
As  several  of  the  best  and  greatest  of  Irish  sagas  deal  with 
events  within  this  period,  we  can — if  bardic  accounts,  probably 
first  committed  to  writing  about  the  sixth  or  seventh  century 
may  at  all  be  trusted — to  some  extent  recall  its  leading  features, 
or  reconstruct  them. 


CHAPTER  III 

EARLY    HISTORY    DRAWN    FROM    NATIVE    SOURCES 

THE  allusions  to  Ireland  and  the  Irish  from  the  third  century 
before  to  the  fourth  century  after  Christ,  are,  as  we  have  seen, 
both  few  and  scanty,  and  throw  little  or  no  light  upon  the 
internal  affairs  or  history  of  the  island  ;  for  these  we  must  go 
to  native  sources. 

At  the  period  when  Emania  was  founded,  that  is,  at  the 
period  when  according  to  the  learned  native  annalist  Tighear- 
nach,  the  records  of  the  early  Irish  cease  to  be  "  uncertain," 
the  throne  of  Ireland  was  occupied  by  a  High-king  called 
Ugony  x  the  Great,  and  a  certain  body  of  saga,  much  of  which 
is  now  lost,  collected  itself  around  his  personality,  and  attached 
itself  to  his  two  sons,  Cobhthach  Caol-mBreagh  and  Leary2 
Lore,  and  around  Leary  Lore's  grandson,  Lowry  3  the  mariner. 
It  was  this  Ugony  who  attempted  to  substitute  a  new  terri- 
torial division  of  Ireland  in  place  of  the  five  provinces  into 
which  it  had  been  divided  by  the  early  Milesians.  He  exacted 
an  oath  by  all  the  elements — the  usual  Pagan  oath — from  the 
men  of  Ireland  that  they  would  never  oppose  his  children  or 
his  race,  and  then  he  divided  the  island  into  twenty-five  parts, 

1  In  Irish,  lugoine.  a  In  Irish,  Laoghaire. 

3  In  Irish,  Labhraidh  Loingseach. 

25 


26        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

giving  one  to  each  of  his  children.  He  succeeded  in  this 
manner  in  destroying  the  ancient  division  of  Ireland  into 
provinces  and  in  perpetuating  his  own,  for  several  generations, 
when  Eochaidh  F£idhleach  x  once  more  reverted  to  the  ancient 
system  of  the  five  provinces — Ulster,  Connacht,  Leinster,  and 
the  two  Munsters.  This  Eochaidh  F&dhleach  came  to  the 
throne  about  140  years  before  Christ,  according  to  the  "Four 
Masters,"2  and  it  was  his  daughter  who  is  the  celebrated  heroine 
Meve,3  queen  of  Connacht,  who  reigned  at  Rathcroghan  in 
Connacht,  and  who  undertook  the  great  Tain  Bo  or  Cattle 
Raid  into  Ulster,  that  has  been  celebrated  for  nigh  on  2,000 
years  in  poem  and  annal  among  the  children  of  the  Gael ;  and 
her  name  introduces  us  to  Conor 4  mac  Nessa,  king  of  Ulster, 
to  the  palace  of  Emania,  to  the  Red  Branch  knights,  to  the 
tragedy  of  D£irdre  and  all  the  vivid  associations  of  the  Cuchu- 
lain  cycle. 

It  was  thirty-three  years  before  Christ,  according  to  the 
"Four  Masters,"  that  Conaire  the  Great,  High-king  of  all 
Ireland,  was  slain,  and  he  is  the  central  figure  of  the  famous 
and  very  ancient  saga  of  the  Bruidhean  Da  Derga.5 

And  now  we  come  to  the  birth  of  Christ,  which  is  thus 
recorded  by  the  "  Four  Masters" :  "  The  first  year  of  the  age  of 
Christ  and  the  eighth  of  the  reign  of  Crimhthan  Niadhnair."  6 
Crimhthan  was  no  doubt  one  of  the  marauding  Scots  who 
plundered  Britain,  for  it  is  recorded  of  him  that  "  it  was  this 
Crimhthan  who  went  on  the  famous  expedition  beyond  the  sea 
from  which  he  brought  home  several  extraordinary  and  costly 

1  Pronounced  "  Yo-hy  Faylach." 

2  Less  than  100  years  before,  according  to  Keating. 

3  In  Irish,  Meadhbh,  pronounced  Meve  or  Maev.      In  Connacht  it  is 
often  strangely  pronounced  "  MQW,"  rhyming  with  "  cow."    This  name 
dropped  out  of  use  about  150  years  ago,  being  Anglicised  into  Maud. 

4  In  Irish,  Concobar,  or  Conchubhair,  a  name  of  which  the  English 
have  made  Conor,  almost  in  accordance  with  the  pronunciation. 

s  Pronounced  "  Breean  Da  Darga,"  i.e.,  the  Mansion  Da  Derga. 
6  Pronounced  "  Crivhan  "  or  "  Criffan  Neeanar."   Keating  assigns  the  birth 
of  Christ  to  the  twelfth  year  of  his  reign. 


EARLY  HISTORY  FROM  NATIVE  SOURCES  27 

treasures,  among  which  were  a  gilt  chariot  and  a  golden  chess- 
board, inlaid  with  three  hundred  transparent  gems,  a  tunic  of 
various  colours  and  embroidered  with  gold,  a  shield  embossed 
with  pure  silver,"  and  many  other  valuables.  Curiously 
enough  O'Clery's  Book  of  Invasions  contains  a  poem  of 
seventy-two  lines  ascribed  to  this  king  himself,  in  which  he 
describes  these  articles.  He  was  fabled  to  have  been  accom- 
panied on  this  expedition  by  his  "  bain-leannan "  or  fairy 
sweetheart,  one  of  an  interesting  race  of  beings  of  whom 
frequent  mention  is  made  in  Irish  legend  and  saga. 

The  next  event  of  consequence  after  the  birth  of  Christ 
is  the  celebrated  revolt  led  by  Cairbre  Cinn-cait,  of  the 
Athach-Tuatha,1  or  unfree  clans  of  Ireland,  in  other  words  the 
serfs  or  plebeians,  against  the  free  clans  or  nobility,  whom  they 
all  but  exterminated,  three  unborn  children  of  noble  line  alone 
escaping.2 

The  people  of  Ireland  were  plagued — as  though  by  heaven 
— with  bad  seasons  and  lack  of  fruit  during  the  usurper 
Cairbre"'s  reign.  As  the  "  Four  Masters "  graphically  put  it, 
"evil  was  the  state  of  Ireland  during  his  reign,  fruitless  her 
corn,  for  there  used  to  be  but  one  grain  on  the  stalk  ;  fishless 


1  The  Athach   (otherwise    Aitheach)  Tuatha    Dr.   O' Conor  translates 
"  giant-race,"  but  it  has  probably  no  connection  with  the  word  \f\athach, 
"a  giant."    O' Curry  and  most  authorities  translate  it  "plebeian,"  or  "rent- 
paying,"  and  Keating  expressly  equates  it  with  daor-chlanna,  or  "unfree 
clans."    These  were  probably  largely  if  not  entirely  composed  of  Firbolgs 
and  other  pre-Milesians  or  pre-Celtic  tribes.    See  p.  22,  note  i. 

2  These  were  Fearadach,  from  whom  sprang  all  the  race  of  Conn  of 
the  Hundred  Battles,  i.e.,  most  of  the  royal  houses  in  Ulster  and  Connacht, 
Tibride  Tireach,  from  whom   the  Dal  Araide,  the  true  Ulster  princes, 
Magennises,  etc.,  spring,  and  Corb  Olum,  from  whom  the  kings  of  the 
Eoghanachts,  that  is,  the  royal  families  of  Munster,  come.    O'Mahony, 
however,  points  out  that  this  massacre  could  not  have  been  anything  like 
as  universal  as  is  here  stated,  for  the   ancestors  of  the  Leinster  royal 
families,  of  the  Dal  Fiatach  of  Ulster,  the  race  of  Conaire,  that  of  the 
Ernaans  of  Munster,  and  several  tribes  throughout  Ireland  of  the  races  of 
the  Irians,  Conall  Cearnach,  and  Feargus  Mac  Roigh,  were  not  involved 
in  it. 


28        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

her  rivers ;  milkless  her  cattle  ;  unplenty  her  fruit,  for  there 
used  to  be  but  one  acorn  on  the  oak."  The  belief  that  bad 
seasons  were  sent  as  a  punishment  of  bad  rulers  was  a  very 
ancient  and  universal  one  in  Ireland,  and  continued  until  very 
lately.  The  ode  which  the  ollav  or  head-bard  is  said  to  have 
chanted  in  the  ears  of  each  newly-inaugurated  prince,  took 
care  to  recall  it  to  his  mind,  and  may  be  thus  translated : — 

"  Seven  witnesses  there  be 

Of  the  broken  faith  of  kings. 
First — to  trample  on  the  free, 

Next — to  sully  sacred  things, 
Next — to  strain  the  law  divine, 

(This  defeat  in  battle  brings). 
Famine,  slaughter,  milkless  kine, 

And  disease  on  flying  wings. 
These  the  seven-fold  vivid  lights 

That  light  the  perjury  of  kings  ! " x 

According  to  the  Book  of  Conquests  the  people  of 
Ireland,  plagued  by  famine  and  bad  seasons,  brought  in,  on  the 
death  of  Cairbre,  the  old  reigning  families  again,  making 
Fearadach  king,  and  the  "  Athach-Tuatha  swore  by  the  heaven 
and  earth,  sun,  moon,  and  all  the  elements,  that  they  would 
be  obedient  to  them  and  their  descendants,  as  long  as  the  sea 

1  "  Mos  erat  ut  omni,  qui  in  dignitatem  elevatus  fuerit,  philosopho-poeta 
Oden  caneret,"  etc.  (See  p.  10  of  the  "  Institutio  Principis  "  in  the  Trans- 
actions of  the  Gaelic  Society,  1808,  for  O'Flanagan's  Latin.)  He  does  not 
give  the  original,  nor  have  I  ever  met  it.  Consonant  with  this  is  a  verse 
from  Tadhg  Mac  Daire's  noble  ode  to  Donogh  O'Brien — 

"  Teirce,  daoirse,  dith  ana, 
Plagha,  cogtha,  conghala, 
Diombuaidh  catha,  gairbh-shion,  gold, 
Tre  ain-bhfir  flatha  fasoid." 

I.e .,  "  Dearth,  servitude,  want  of  provisions,  plagues,  wars,  conflicts,  defeat 
in  battle,  rough  weather,  rapine,  through  the  falsity  of  a  prince  they 
arise."  I  find  a  curious  extension  of  this  idea  in  a  passage  in  the  "  Annals 
of  Loch  Ce  "  under  the  year  1568,  which  is  recorded  as  "  a  cold  stormy 
year  of  scarcity,  and  this  is  little  wonder,  for  it  was  in  it  Mac  Diarmada 
(Dermot)  died  "  ! 


EARLY  HISTORY  FROM  NATIVE  SOURCES  29 

should  surround  Ireland."  The  land  recovered  its  tranquillity 
with  the  reign  of  Fearadach.  "  Good  was  Ireland  during  llis 
time.  The  seasons  were  right  tranquil ;  the  earth  brought 
forth  its  fruit.  Fishful  its  river  mouths  ;  milkful  the  kine  ; 
heavy-headed  the  woods." 

There  was  a  second  uprising  of  the  Athach-Tuatha  later 
on,1  when  they  massacred  their  masters  on  Moy  Bolg.  The 
lawful  heir  to  the  throne  was  yet  unborn  at  the  time  of  this 
massacre  and  so  escaped.  This  was  the  celebrated  Tuathal 
[Too-a-hal,  now  Toole],  who  ultimately  succeeded  to  the  throne 
and  became  one  of  the  most  famous  of  all  the  pre-Patrician 
kings.  It  was  he  who  first  established  or  cut  out  the  province 
of  Meath.  The  name  Meath  had  always  existed  as  the  ap- 
pellation of  a  small  district  near  which  the  provinces  of  Ulster, 
Connacht,  Leinster,  and  the  two  Munsters  joined.  Tuathal  cut 
off  from  each  of  the  four  provinces  the  angles  adjoining  it,  and 
out  of  these  he  constituted  a  new  province  2  to  be  thenceforth  the 

1  There  is  a  rather  suspicious  parallelism  between  these  two  risings, 
which  would  make  it  appear  as  though  part  at  least  of  the  story  had  been 
reduplicated.    First  Cairbre  Cinn-Cait,  and  the  Athach-Tuatha,  in  the  year 
10,  slay  the  nobles  of  Ireland,  but  Fearadach  escapes  in  his  mother's  womb. 
His  mother  was  daughter  of  the  King  of  Alba.    After  five  years  of  famine 
Cairbre  dies  and  Fearadach  comes  back  and  reigns.    Again,  in  the  year 
56,  Fiachaidh,  the  legitimate  king,  is  slain  by  the  provincial  kings  at  the 
instigation  of  the  Athach-Tuatha,  in  the  slaughter  of  Moy  Bolg.     His 
unborn  son  also  escapes  in  the  womb  of  his  mother.    This  mother  is  also 
daughter  of  the  King  of  Alba.    Elim  the  usurper  reigns,  but  God  again 
takes  vengeance,  and  during  the  time  that  Elim  was  in  the  sovereignty 
Ireland  was  "  without  corn,  without  milk,  without  fruit,  without  fish,"  etc. 
Again,  on  the  death  of  Elim  the  legitimate  son  comes  to  the  throne,  and 
the  seasons  right  themselves .    Keating's  account  agrees  with  this  except 
that  he  misplaces  Cairbre's  reign.     There  probably  were  two  uprisings  of 
the  servile  tribes  against   their  Celtic  masters,  but  some  of  the  events 
connected   with  the  one  may  have  been  reduplicated  by  the  annalists. 
O'Donovan,  in  his  fine  edition  of  the  "  Four  Masters,"  does  not  notice  this 
parallelism. 

2  This  would  appear  to  have  left  six  provinces  in  Ireland,  but  the  dis- 
tinction between  the  two  Munsters  became  obsolete  in  time,  though  about 
a  century  and  a  half  later  we  find  Cormac  levying  war  on  Munster  and 
demanding  a  double  tribute  from  it  as  it  was  a  double  province  !    So  late 


30        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

special  estate,  demesne,  and  inheritance  of  the  High-kings  of 
Ireland.  He  built,  or  rebuilt,  four  palaces  in  the  four  quarters 
of  the  district  he  had  thus  annexed,  all  of  them  celebrated  in 
after  times — of  which  more  later  on.  It  was  he  also  who, 
under  evil  auspices  and  in  an  evil  hour,  extorted  from  Leinster 
the  first  Borumha,1  or  Boru  tribute, — nomen  infaustum — a 
step  which  contributed  so  powerfully  to  mould  upon  lines 
of  division  and  misery  the  history  of  our  unhappy  country 
from  that  day  until  the  present,  by  estranging  the  province  of 
Leinster,  throwing  it  into  the  arms  of  foreigners,  and  causing 
it  to  put  itself  into  opposition  to  the  rest  of  Ireland.  This 
unhappy  tribute,  of  which  we  shall  hear  more  later  on,  was 
imposed  during  the  reigns  of  forty  kings. 

Thirteen  years  after  the  death  of  Tuathal,  Cathaoir  [Cau- 
heer],  celebrated  for  his  Will  or  Testament,2  reigned  ;  he  was 
of  pure  Leinster  blood,  and  the  men  of  that  province  have 
always  felicitated  themselves  upon  having  given  at  least  this 

as  the  fourteenth  century  O'Dugan,  in  his  poem  on  the  kings  of  the  line  of 
Eber,  refers  to  the  two  provinces  of  Munster. 

"  Da  thir  is  aille  i  n-Eirinn 
Da  chuige  an  Chlair  leibhinn, 
Tir  fhoid-sheang  aird-mhin  na  ngleann 
Coigeadh  i  d'Aird-righ  Eireann  " — 

i.e.y  the  two  most  beauteous  lands  in  Ireland,  the  two  provinces  of  the 
delightful  plain,  the  slender-sodded,  high-smooth  land  of  the  valleys,  a 
province  is  she  for  the  High-king  of  Ireland. 

1  There  is  a  town  in  Clare  called  Borumha  [gen.  "Boirbhe,"  according  to 
O'Brien]  from  which  it  is  said  Brian  Boru  derived  his  name.    But  the  usual 
belief  is  that  he  derived  it  from  having  imposed  the  boroimhe  tribute  again 
on  Leinster.  Borumha  is  pronounced  Bo-roo-a,  hence  the  popular  Boru[a] 
Boroimhe  is  pronounced  Bo-ruvS..   It  is  also  said  that  the  town  of  Borumha 
in  Clare  got  its  name  from  having  the  Boroimhe  tribute  driven  into  it. 
The  spelling  Boroimhe  [  =  Boruva]  instead  of  Borumha  [Boru-a]  has  been 
a  great  crux  to  English  speakers,  and  I  noticed  the  following  skit,  in  a  little 
Trinity  College  paper,  the  other  day — 

"  Says  the  warrior  Brian  Boroimhe, 
I'm  blest  if  I  know  what  to  doimhe — 

My  favourite  duck 

In  the  chimney  is  stuck, 
And  the  smoke  will  not  go  up  the  floimhe  ! " 

2  See  "  The  Book  of  Rights,"  p.  172. 


EARLY  HISTORY  FROM  NATIVE  SOURCES  31 

one  great  king  to  Ireland.  It  is  from  him  that  the  great 
Leinster  families — the  O'Tooles,  O'Byrnes,  Mac  Morroughs 
or  Murphys,  O'Conor  Falys,  O'Gormans,  and  others — descend. 
He  was  slain,  A.D.  123,  by  Conn  of  the  Hundred  Battles.1 

There  are  few  kings  during  the  three  hundred  years  pre- 
ceding and  following  the  birth  of  Christ  more  famous  than  this 
Conn,  and  there  is  a  very  large  body  of  saga  collected  round 
him  and  his  rival  Eoghan  [Owen],  the  king  of  Munster  who 
succeeded  in  wresting  half  the  sovereignty  from  him.  As  the 
result  of  their  conflicts  that  part  of  Ireland  which  lies  north 
of  the  Escir  Riada,2  or,  roughly  speaking,  that  lies  north  of  a 
line  drawn  from  Dublin  to  Gal  way,  has  from  that  day  to  this 
been  known  as  Conn's  Half,  and  that  south  of  the  same  line  as 
Owen's  Half.  Owen  was  at  last  slain  by  him  of  the  hundred 
battles  at  the  fight  of  Moy  Leana. 

Owen,  as  we  have  seen,  was  never  King  of  Ireland,  but  he 
left  behind  him  a  famous  son,  Oilioll  3  Olum,  who  was  married 
to  Sadhbh,4  the  daughter  of  his  rival  and  vanquisher,  Conn  of 
the  Hundred  Battles,  and  it  is  to  this  stem  that  nearly  all  the 
ruling  families  of  Munster  trace  themselves.  From  his  eldest 

1  It  was  O'Beirne  Crowe,  I  think,  who  first  translated  this  name  by  "Conn 
the  Hundred- Fighter,"  "  egal-a-cent-guerriers,"  as  Jubainville  has  it,  a  trans- 
lation which,  since  him,  every  one  seems  to  have  adopted .    This  translation 
makes  the  Irish  adjective  ceadcathach  exactly  equivalent  to  the  Greek 
6Karoira/ia%oe,  but  it  is  certainly  not  correct,  for  Keating  says  distinctly 
that  Conn  was  called  ceadcathach,  or  of  the  hundred  battles,  "from  the 
hundreds  of  battles  which  he  fought  against  the  pentarchs  or  provincial 
kings  of  Ireland,"  quoting  a  verse  from  a  bard  by  way  of  illustration. 

2  Pronounced  "  Eskkir  Reeada." 

3  Pronounced  "Ell-yull." 

4  Pronounced  "  Sive,"but  asMeadhbh  is  curiously  pronounced  like  "Mow  " 
in  Connacht,  so  is  SadJibh  pronounced  "  sow,"  rhyming  to  "  cow."   I  heard 
a  Galway  woman  in  America,  the  mother  of  Miss  Conway,  of  the  Boston 
Pilot  quote  these  lines,  which  she  said  she  had  often  heard  in  her  youth — 

"Sow,  Mow  [i.e.,  Sive  and  Meve],  Sorcha,  Sighle, 
Anmneacha  cat  agus  madah  na  tire." 

7.0.,  "  Sive,  Meve,  Sorcha  and  Sheela  are  the  names  of  all  the  cats  and 
dogs  in  the  country,"  and  hence  by  implication  unsuited  for  human  beings. 
This  was  part  of  the  process  of  Anglicisation. 


32        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

son,  Owen  Mor,  come  the  Mac  Carthys,  O'Sullivans,  O'Keefes, 
O'Callaghans,  etc.  ;  from  his  second  son  come  the  Mac  Namaras 
and  Clancys ;  and  from  his  third  son,  Cian,1  come  the  so-called 
tribes  of  the  Cianachts,  the  O'CarrolIs,  O'Meaghers,  O'Haras, 
O'Garas,  Caseys,  the  southern  O'Conors,  and  others.  There  is  a 
considerable  body  of  romance  gathered  around  this  Oilioll  and  his 
sons  and  wife,  chiefly  connected  with  the  kingship  of  Munster. 

Conn's  son,  Art  the  Lonely — so-called  because  he  survived 
after  the  slaughter  of  his  brothers — was  slain  by  Mac  Con, 
Sive's  son  by  her  first  husband,  and  the  slayer  ruled  in  his  place, 
being  the  third  king  of  the  line  of  the  Ithians,  of  whom  we 
shall  read  later  on,  who  came  to  the  throne. 

He,  however,  was  himself  killed  at  the  instigation  of  Cormac, 
son  of  Art,  or  Cormac  mac  Art,  as  he  is  usually  designated. 
This  Cormac  is  a  central  figure  of  the  large  cycle  of  stories 
connected  with  Finn  and  the  Fenians.  He  was  at  last  slain 
in  the  battle  of  Moy  Mochruime.  His  advice  to  a  prince, 
addressed  to  his  son  Cairbre  of  the  Liffey,  will  be  noticed  later 
on,  andj  so  far  as  it  may  be  genuine,  bears  witness  to  his 
reputed  wisdom,  "  as  do  the  many  other  praiseworthy  institutes 
named  from  him  that  are  still  to  be  found  among  the  books 
of  the  Brehon  Laws."  2  This  Cormac  it  was  who  built  the 
first  mill  in  Ireland,  and  who  made  a  banqueting-place  of  the 
great  hall  of  Mi-Cuarta,3  at  Tara,  which  was  one  hundred 
yards  long,  forty-five  feet  high,  one  hundred  feet  broad,  and 
which  was  entered  by  fourteen  doors.  The  site  is  still  to  be 
seen,  but  no  vestige  of  the  building,  which,  like  all  early  Irish 
structures,  was  of  wood. 

Cairbre  of  the  Liffey  succeeded  his  father  Cormac,  and  it 
was  he  who  fought  the  battle  of  Gabhra  (Gowra)  with  the 
Fenians,  in  which  he  himself  was  slain,  but  in  which  he  broke, 
and  for  ever,  the  power  of  that  unruly  body  of  warriors. 

About  the  year  331   the  great  Ulster  city  and  palace  of 

1  Pronounced  "  Keean."  2  Keating. 

3  I.e.,  the  hall  of  "the  circulation  of  mead." 


EARLY  HISTORY  FROM  NATIVE  SOURCES  33 

Emania,  which  had  been  the  home  of  Conor  and  the  Red 
Branch  knights,  and  the  capital  of  Ulster  for  six  hundred 
years,  was  taken  and  burnt  to  the  ground  by  the  Three  Collas, 
who  thus  become  the  ancestors  of  a  number  of  the  tribes 
of  modern  Ulster.  From  one  of  them  descend  the 
Mac  Mahons,  the  ruling  family  of  Monaghan  ;  the  Maguires, 
barons  of  Fermanagh  ;  and  the  O'Hanlons,  chiefs  of  Orior  ; 
while  another  was  the  ancestor  of  the  Mac  Donalds  of  Antrim 
and  the  Isles,  of  the  Mac  Dugalds,  and  the  Mac  Rories.  The  old 
nobility  of  Ulster,  whose  capital  had  been  Emania,  were  thrust 
aside  into  the  north-east  corner  of  Ulster,  whence  most  of 
them  were  expelled  by  the  planters  of  James  I. 

We  now  come  to  Eochaidh  [Yohee]  Muigh-mheadhoin 
[Mwee-va-on]  who  was  father  of  the  celebrated  Niall  of  the 
Nine  Hostages.  From  one  of  his  sons,  Brian,  come  the  Ui 
[Ee]  Briain,  that  is,  the  collection  of  families  composed  of 
the  seed  of  Brian — the  O'Conors,  kings  of  Connacht  ;  the 
Mac  Dermots,  princes  of  Moylurg,  afterwards  of  Coolavin  ; 
the  O'Rorkes,  princes  of  Breffny;  the  O'Reillys,  O'Flaherties, 
and  Mac  Donaghs.  From  another  son  of  his,  Fiachrach,  come 
the  Ui  Fiachrach,  who  were  for  ages  the  rivals  of  the  Ui 
Briain  in  contesting  the  sovereignty  of  Connacht  —  the 
O'Shaughnesies  were  one  of  the  principal  families  representing 
this  sept.1 

Eochaidh  Muigh-mheadhoin  was  succeeded  in  3662  by 
Crimhthan  [Crivhan],  who  was  one  of  those  militant  Scots  at 
whose  hands  the  unhappy  Britons  suffered  so  sorely.  He 
u  gained  victories,"  say  the  annals,  "  and  extended  his  sway 
over  Alba,  Britain,  and  Gaul,"  which  probably  means  that  he 
raided  all  three,  and  possibly  made  settlements  in  South-west 
Britain.  He  was  poisoned  by  his  sister  in  the  hope  that  the 
sovereignty  would  fall  to  her  favourite  son  Brian.  In  this, 
however,  she  was  disappointed,  and  it  is  a  noticeable  fact  in 

1  Also  the  O'Dowdas  of  Mayo,  the  O'Heynes,  O'Clearys,  and  Kilkellies. 

2  In  360  according  to  Keating. 

c 


34        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

Irish  history  that  none  of  the  Ui  Briain,  or  great  Connacht 
families,  ever  sat  upon  the  throne  of  Ireland,  with  the  excep- 
tion of  Turlough  O'Conor,  third  last  king  of  Ireland,  ancestor 
of  the  present  O'Conor  Don,  and  Roderick  O'Conor,  the 
last  of  all  the  High-kings  of  the  island. 

Brian  being  set  aside,  Niall  of  the  Nine  Hostages  ascended 
the  throne  in  379.  It  was  he  who  first  assisted  the  Dal  Riada 
clans  to  gain  supremacy  over  the  Picts  of  Scotland.  These 
Dal  Riada  were  descended  from  a  grandson,  on  the  mother's 
side,  of  Conn  of  the  Hundred  Battles.  There  were  two  septs 
of  these  Dal  Riada,  one  settled  in  Ulster  and  the  other  in  Alba 
[Scotland].  It  was  from  the  conquests  x  achieved  by  the  Scots 
{I.e.  Milesians]  of  Ireland  that  Alba  was  called  Lesser  Scotia. 
In  course  of  ages  the  inconvenient  distinction  of  the  countries 
into  Lesser  and  Greater  Scotia  died  away,  but  the  name 
Scotia,  or  Scotland,  without  any  qualifying  adjective,  clung  to 
the  lesser  country  to  the  frightful  confusion  of  historians, 
while  the  greater  remained  known  to  foreigners  as  Erin,  or 
Hibernia.2  This  Niall  was  surnamed  "  of  the  Nine  Hostages," 
from  his  having  extorted  hostages  from  nine  minor  kings.  He 
mercilessly  plundered  Britain  and  Gaul.  The  Picts  and  Irish 

1  One  branch  of  the  Dal  Riada  settled  in  Scotland  in  the  third  century, 
and  their  kinsfolk  from  Ulster  kept  constantly  crossing  over  and   assisting 
them  in  their  struggles  with  the  Picts.    They  were  recruited  also  by  some 
other  minor  emigrations  of   Irish  Picts  and  Milesians.    Their  complete 
supremacy  over  the  Picts  was  not  obtained  till  the  beginning  of  the  sixth 
century.     It  was  about  the  year  502  that  Fergus  the  Great,  leading  a  fresh 
and  powerful  army  of  the  Dal  Riada  into  Scotland,  first  assumed  for  himself 
Royal  authority  which  his  descendants  retained  for  783  years,  down  to  the 
reign  of  Malcolm  IV.,  slain  in  1285.     It  was  not,  however,  till  about  the 
year  844  that  the  Picts,  who  were  almost  certainly  a  non-Aryan  race,  were 
finally  subdued  by  King  Keneth  Mac  Alpin,  who  completely  Gaelicised  them. 

2  The  name  of  Scotia  was  used  for  Ireland  as  late  as  the  fifteenth  cen- 
tury upon  the  Continent,  in  one  or  two  instances  at  least,  and  "kommt 
noch  am  15  Jahrhundert  in  einer  Unkunde  des  Kaisers  Sigismund  vor,  und 
der  Name  Schottenkloster  setzt  das  Andenken  an   diese  ursprungliche 
Bezeichnung  Irlands  noch  in  mehreren  Stadten  Deutschlands  (Regens- 
burg,  Wurtzburg,  Coin,  £c.),  Belgien,  Frankreich  und  der  Schweiz  fort " 
(Rodenberg's  "  Insel  der  Heiligen."     Berlin,  1860,  vol.  i.  p.  321). 


EARLY  HISTORY  FROM  NATIVE  SOURCES  35 

Gaels  combined  had  at  one  time  penetrated  as  far  as  London  and 
Kent,  when  Theodosius  drove  them  back.1  It  was  probably 
against  Niall  that  Stilicho  gained  those  successes  so  magnilo- 
quently  eulogised  by  Claudian,  "  when  the  Scot  moved  all 
lerne  against  us  and  the  sea  foamed  under  his  hostile 
oars."  Niall  had  eight  sons,  from  whom  the  famous  Ui  [Ee] 
Neill  are  all  descended.  One  branch  of  these,  the  branch 
descended  from  his  son  Owen,  took  the  name  of  O'Neill  in  the 
eleventh  century,  not  from  him  of  the  Nine  Hostages,  but  from 
King  Niall  of  the  Black  Knee,  a  less  remote  ancestor,  of  whom 
more  later  on.  This  was  the  great  family  of  the  Tyrone 
O'Neills.  So  solidly  did  the  posterity  of  Niall  establish  itself, 
and  upon  so  firm  a  basis  was  his  power  perpetuated,  that 
almost  all  the  following  kings  of  Ireland  were  descended  from 
him,  besides  multitudes  of  illustrious  families,  "  nearly  three 
hundred  of  his  descendants,  eminent  for  their  learning  and  the 
sanctity  of  their  lives,"  says  O'Flaherty,  "  have  been  enrolled 
in  the  catalogue  of  the  saints."  2  He  it  was  who,  while  plun- 
dering in  Britain  or  Armorica,  led  back  amongst  other 
captives  the  youth,  then  sixteen  years  old,  who  was  destined, 
under  the  title  of  the  Holy  Patrick,  to  revolutionise  Ireland. 
St.  Patrick's  own  "  Confession  "  and  his  Epistle  to  Coroticus 

1  Bede  describes  the  bitter  complaints  of    the   unfortunate    Britons. 
"  Repellunt,"  they  said,  "  Barbari  ad  mare,  repellit  mare  ad  Barbaros. 
Inter  hasc  duo  genera  funerum  oriuntur,  aut  jugulamur  aut  mergimur." 

2  The  Northern  and  Southern  Ui  Neill  [i.e.,  the  septs  descended  from  Niall] 
are  so  inextricably  connected  with  all  Irish  history  that  it  may  be  as  well  to 
state  here  that  four  of  his  sons  settled  in  Meath,  and  that  their  descendants 
are  called  the  Southern  Ui  Neill.  The  so-called  Four  Tribes  of  Tara— O'Hart, 
O'Regan,  O'Kelly  of  Bregia,  and  O'Conolly — with  many  more  subsepts, 
belong  to  them.    The  other  four  sons  are  the  ancestors  of  the  Northern  Ui 
Neill  of  Ulster,  the  O'Neills,  O'Donnells,  and  their  numerous  co-relatives. 
The  Ui  Neill  remained  to  the  last  the  ablest  and  most  powerful  clan  in  Ireland, 
only  rivalled — if  rivalled  at  all — by  the  O'Briens  of  Thomond,  and  later  by 
the  Geraldines,  who  were  of  Italian  lineage  according  to  most  authori- 
ties. "  Giraldini  qui  amplissimos  et  potentissimos  habeunt  ditiones  in  Austro 
et  Oriente,  proxime  quidem  ex  Britannia  hue  venerunt,  origine  vero  sunt 
I  tali   nempe  vetustissimi  et  nobilissimi  Florentini  sive  Amerini "   (Peter 
Lombard,  "  De  Regno  Hibernias."     Louvain,  1632,  p.  4). 


36        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

have  come  down  to  us — the  former  preserved  in  the  Book  of 
Armagh,  a  manuscript  copied  by  a  scribe  named  Ferdomnach 
in  807  (or  812  according  to  a  truer  chronology),  apparently 
from  St.  Patrick's  own  copy,  for  at  the  end  of  the  Confession 
the  scribe  adds  this  note  :  "  Thus  far  the  volume  which  Patrick 
wrote  with  his  own  hand." x  In  this  ancient  manuscript  (itself 
only  a  copy  of  older  ones  so  damaged  as  to  be  almost  illegible  2 
to  the  scribe  who  copied  them  in  807,  a  little  more  than  three 
hundred  years  after  St.  Patrick's  death),  we  find  nearly  a  dozen 
mentions  of  Niall  of  the  Nine  Hostages,  of  his  son  Laeghaire 
[Leary],  and  several  more  who  lived  before  St.  Patrick's  arrival, 
and  so  find  ourselves  for  the  first  time  upon  tolerably  solid 
historical  ground,  which  from  this  out  never  deserts  us.  St. 
Columcille,  the  evangeliser  of  the  Picts  and  the  founder  of 
lona,  was  the  great-great-grandson  of  this  Niall,  and  the  great- 
grandson  of  Conall  Gulban,  so  celebrated  even  to  this  day  in 
Irish  romance  and  history.3 

Ascertainable  authenticated  Irish  history,  then,  begins  with 
Niall  and  with  Patrick,  but  in  this  chapter  we  have   gone 

1  "  Hucusque  volumen  quod  Patricius  manu  conscripsit  sua.    Septima 
decima  martii  die  translatus  est  Patricius  ad  ccelos." 

2  See  Father  Hogan's  preface  to  his  admirable  edition  of  St.  Patrick's 
life  from  the  Book  of  Armagh  edited  by  him  for  the  Bolandists,  where 
he  says  of  the  MS.  that  though  beautifully  coloured  it  is  "  tamen  difficilis 
lectu,  turn  quod  quaedam  voces  aut  etiam  paginae  plus  minus  injuria  tem- 
porum  deletae  sunt,  turn  quod  ipsum  exemplar  unde  exscriptus  est  jam 
videtur  talem  injuriam  passum  :   quod  indicant  rursus  notae  subinde  ad 
marginem  appositae,  praesertim  vero  signum  h  (vel  in  i.e.  incerium  ?)  et  Z 
(£»/rei)    quae    dubitationem    circa     aliquot    vocum    scriptionem  prodere 
videntur."    The  words  incertus  liber  hie,  "the  book  is  not  clear  here," 
occur  twice,  and  the  zeta  of  inquiry  eight  times.    See  Dr.  Reeves'  paper, 
"  Proceedings  of  the  Royal  Irish  Academy."    August,  1891. 

3  Heaven    itself    was    believed    to  have  reverenced  this   magnificent 
genealogy,  for  in  his  life,  in  the  Book  of  Lecan,  we  read  how  "  each  man 
of  the  bishops   used   to  grind  a  quern  in  turn,  howbeit  an  angel  from 
heaven  used  to  grind  on  behalf  of  Columcille.    This  was  the  honour  which 
the  Lord  used  to  render  him  because  of  the  eminent  nobleness  of  his 
race "  !     See  Stokes'   "  Lives  of   the  Saints,  from  the  Book  of  Lecan," 
P-  173. 


EARLY  HISTORY  FROM  NATIVE  SOURCES  37 

behind  it  to  see  what  may  be  learned  from  native  sources — 
rather  traditional  than  historical — of  Irish  life  and  history,  from 
the  founding  of  Emania  three  hundred  years  before  Christ 
down  to  the  coming  of  St.  Patrick.  But  for  all  the  things 
which  we  have  recounted  we  have  no  independent  external 
testimony,  nor  have  we  now  any  manuscripts  remaining  of 
which  we  could  say,  u  We  have  here  documentary  evidence 
fifteen  or  twenty  centuries  old  attesting  the  truth  of  these 
things."  No ;  we  are  entirely  dependent  for  all  that  pre- 
Patrician  history  upon  native  evidence  alone,  and  that  evidence 
has  come  down  to  us  chiefly  but  not  entirely  in  manuscripts 
copied  in  the  twelfth  and  in  later  centuries. 


CHAPTER  IV 

HOW    FAR    CAN    NATIVE    SOURCES    BE    RELIED    ON  ? 

IT  must  next  be  considered  what  amount  of  reliance  can  be 
placed  upon  the  Irish  annals  and  annalists,  who  have  preserved 
to  us  our  early  history.  If,  in  those  few  cases  where  we  happen 
to  have  some  credible  external  evidences  of  early  events,  we  find 
our  native  annalists  notoriously  at  variance  with  such  evidences, 
our  faith  in  them  must  of  necessity  be  shaken.  If,  on  the  other 
hand,  we  find  them  to  coincide  fairly  well  with  these  other 
accounts  taken  from  foreign  sources,  we  shall  be  inclined  to 
place  all  the  more  reliance  on  their  accuracy  when  they  record 
events  upon  which  no  such  sidelights  can  be  thrown. 

Now,  from  the  nature  of  the  case,  it  is  exceedingly  difficult, 
considering  how  isolated  Ireland  was  while  evolving  her  own 
civilisation,  and  considering  how  little  in  early  ages  her  internal 
affairs  clashed  with  those  of  Europe,  to  find  any  specific  events 
,*-.  of  which  we  have  early  external  evidence.  We  can,  for  instance, 
apart  from  our  own  annals  and  poems,  procure  no  corrobora- 
tive evidence  of  the  division  of  Ireland  between  Conn  and 
Owen,  of  the  destruction  of  Emania  by  the  Three  Collas,  or  of 
the  battle  of  Gabhra.  But  despite  the  silence  upon  Irish  affairs 
of  ancient  foreign  writers,  we  have  luckily  another  class  of 
proof  of  the  highest  possible  value,  brought  to  light  by  the  dis- 

38 


CAN  NATIVE   SOURCES  BE  RELIED   ON?    39 

coveries  of  modern  science,  and  powerfully  strengthening  the 
credibility  of  our  annals.  This  is  nothing  less  than  the  record 
of  natural  phenomena.  If  we  find,  on  calculating  backwards, 
as  modern  science  has  enabled  us  to  do,  that  such  events  as  the 
appearance  of  comets  or  the  occurrence  of  eclipses  are  recorded 
to  the  day  and  hour  by  the  annalists,  we  can  know  with  some- 
thing like  certainty  that  these  phenomena  were  recorded  at  the 
time  of  their  appearance  by  writers  who  observed  them,  whose 
writings  must  have  been  actually  consulted  and  seen  by  those 
later  annalists,  whose  books  we  now  possess.  Nobody  could 
think  of  saying  of  natural  phenomena  thus  accurately  recorded, 
as  they  might  of  mere  historical  narratives,  that  they  were 
handed  down  by  tradition  only,  and  reduced  to  writing  for  the 
first  time  many  centuries  later.  Now  it  so  happens  that  the 
Annals  of  Ulster,  annals  which  treat  of  Ireland  and  Irish  his- 
tory from  about  the  year  444,  but  of  which  the  written  copy 
dates  only  from  the  fifteenth  century,  contain  from  the  year 
496  to  884,  as  many  as  18  records  of  eclipses  and  comets 
which  agree  exactly  even  to  the  day  and  hour  with  the 
calculations  of  modern  astronomers.  How  impossible  it  is 
to  keep  such  records  unless  written  memoranda  are  made  of 
them  by  eye-witnesses,  is  shown  by  the  fact  that  Bede,  born 
himself  in  675,  in  recording  the  great  solar  eclipse  which  took 
place  only  eleven  years  before  his  own  birth  is  yet  two  days 
astray  in  his  date  ;  while,  on  the  other  hand,  the  Ulster  annals 
give  not  only  the  correct  day  but  the  correct  hour — thus 
showing  that  Cathal  Maguire,  their  compiler,  had  access 
either  to  the  original  or  to  a  copy  of  the  original  account  of  an 
eye-witness.1 

Again,  we  occasionally  find  the  early  records  of  the  two  great 

1  Nor  is  this  mere  conjecture  ;  it  is  fully  borne  out  by  the  annals  them- 
selves, which  actually  give  us  their  sources  of  information.  Thus  under 
the  year  439,  we  read  that  "  Chronicon  magnum  (i.e.,  The  Senchas  Mor) 
scriptum  est  ";  at  467  and  468,  the  compiler  quotes  "  Sic  in  Libro  Cuanach 
inveni  "  ;  at  482,  "  Ut  Guana  scripsit "  ;  in  507,  "  Secundum  librum 
Mochod  "  ;  in  628,  "  Sicut  in  libro  Dubhdaleithe  narratur,"  &c. 


40        LITERARY  HISTORY  OP  IRELAND 

branches  of  the  Celtic  race,  the  Gaelic  and  the  Cymric,  throwing 
a  mutual  light  upon  each  other.  There  exists,  for  instance,  an 
ancient  Irish  saga,  of  which  several  versions  have  come  down 
to  us,  a  saga  well  known  in  Irish  literature  under  the 
title  of  the  Expulsion  of  the  Desi,1  which,  according  to 
Zimmer — than  whom  there  can  be  no  better  authority — was, 
judging  from  its  linguistic  forms,  committed  to  writing  in  the 
eighth  century.  The  Desi  were  a  tribe  settled  in  Bregia,  in 
Meath,  and  the  Annals 2  tell  us  that  the  great  Cormac  mac 
Art  defeated  them  in  seven  battles,  forcing  them  to  emigrate  and 
seek  new  homes.  This  composition  describes  their  wanderings 
in  detail.  Some  of  the  tribe  we  are  told  migrated  to  Munster, 
whilst  another  portion  crossed  the  Irish  Sea  and  settled  down 
in  that  part  of  South  Wales  called  Dyfed,  under  the  leadership 
of  one  Eochaidh  [Yohy],  thence  called  "  from-over-sea."  There 
Eochaidh  with  his  sons  and  grand-children  lived  and  died,  and 
propagated  themselves  to  the  time  of  the  writer,  who  states 
that  they  were  then — at  the  time  he  wrote — ruled  over  by  one 
Teudor  mac  Regin,  king  of  Dyfed,  who  was  then  alive,  and 
whose  pedigree  is  traced  in  fourteen  generations  up  to  the 
father  of  that  Eochaidh  who  had  led  them  over  in  Cormac  mac 
Art's  time.  Taking  a  generation  as  33  years,  and  starting  with 
the  year  270,  about  the  time  of  the  expulsion  of  the  Desi,  we 
find  that  Teudor  Mac  Regin  should  have  reigned  about  the 
year  730,  and  the  Irish  saga  must  have  been  written  at  this 
time,  which  agrees  with  Zimmer's  reckoning,  although  his 
computation  is  based  on  purely  linguistic  grounds.  That  school 
of  interpreters  who  decry  all  ancient  Irish  history  as  a  mixture 
of  mythology  and  fiction,  and  who  can  see  in  Cormac  mac 
Art  only  a  sun-god,  would  probably  ascribe  the  expulsion  of  the 
Desi  and  other  records  of  a  similar  nature  to  the  creative  imagi- 
nation of  the  later  Irish,  who,  they  hold,  invented  their  genea- 
logies as  they  did  their  history.  But  in  this  case  it  happens  by 
the  merest  accident  that  we  have  collateral  evidence  of  these 
1  "  Indarba  inna  nDesi."  2  See  "  Four  Masters,"  A.D.  265. 


CAN  NATIVE  SOURCES  BE  RELIED  ON?    41 

events,  for  in  a  Welsh  pedigree  of  Ellen,  mother  of  Owen,  son 
of  Howel  Dda,  preserved  in  a  manuscript  of  the  eleventh  cen- 
tury, this  same  Teudor  is  mentioned,  and  his  genealogy  traced 
back  by  the  Welsh  scribe  ;  the  names  of  eleven  of  his  ancestors, 
corresponding — except  for  inconsiderable  orthographical  differ- 
ences— with  those  preserved  in  the  ancient  Irish  text. 

"  When  we  consider,"  says  Dr.  Kuno  Meyer,  "  that  these  Welsh 
names  passed  through  the  hands  of  who  knows  how  many  Irish 
scribes,  one  must  marvel  that  they  have  preserved  their  forms  so 
well ; "  and  he  adds,  "  in  the  light  of  this  evidence  alone,  I  have  no 
hesitation  in  saying  that  the  settlement  of  an  Irish  tribe  in  Dyfed 
during  the  latter  half  of  the  third  century  must  be  considered  a  well- 
authenticated  fact."  * 

Dr.  Reeves  cites  another  remarkable  case  of  undesigned  coin- 
cidence which  strongly  testifies  to  the  accuracy  of  the  Irish 
annalists.  In  the  Antiphonary  of  Bangor,  an  ancient  service 
book  still  preserved  on  the  Continent,  we  find  the  names  of 
fifteen  abbots  of  the  celebrated  monastery  of  Bangor — at  which 
the  heresiarch  Pelagius  was  probably  educated  —  and  these 
fifteen  abbots  are  recorded  by  the  same  names  and  in  the  same 
order  as  in  the  Annals;  "and  this  undesigned  coincidence,"  says 
Reeves,  "  is  the  more  interesting  because  the  testimonies  are 
perfectly  independent,  the  one  being  afforded  by  Irish  records 
which  never  left  the  kingdom,  and  the  other  by  a  Latin  com- 
position which  has  been  a  thousand  years  absent  from  the 
country  where  it  was  written.'* 

Another  incidental  proof  of  the  accuracy  of  early  Irish 
literary  records  is  afforded  by  the  fact  that  on  the  few  occa- 
sions where  the  Saxon  Bede,  when  making  mention  of  some 
Scot,  /.*.,  Irishman,  gives  also  the  name  of  his  father,  this 
name  coincides  with  that  given  by  the  annals. 

We  may,  then,  take  it,  without  any  credulity  on  our  part, 

1  See  Kuno  Meyer's  paper  on  the  "  Early  Relations  between  the  Gael 
and  Brython,"  read  before  the  Hon.  Society  of  Cymmrodorion,  May  28, 
1896. 


42        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

that  Irish  history  as  drawn  from  native  sources  may  be  very 
well  relied  upon  from  about  the  middle  of  the  fourth  century. 
Beyond  that  date,  going  backwards,  we  have  no  means  at  our 
disposal  for  checking  its  accuracy  or  inaccuracy,  no  means  of 
determining  the  truth  of  such  events  as  the  struggle  between 
Conn  and  Owen,  between  the  Fenian  bands  and  the  High- 
king,  between  Ulster  under  Conor  and  Connacht  under 
Meve,  no  means  of  determining  the  actual  existence  of 
Conaire  the  Great,  or  of  Cuchulain,  or  of  the  heroes  of  the 
Red  Branch,  or  of  Finn  mac  Cumhail  [Cool]  and  his  son 
Ossian  and  his  grandson  Oscar.  Is  there  any  solid  ground 
for  treating  these  things  as  objective  history  ? 

It  has  been  urged  that  it  is  unphilosophic  of  us  and  was 
unphilosophic  of  the  annalist  Tighearnach  to  fix  the  reign  of 
Cimbaeth *  [Kimbae],  who  built  Emania,  the  capital  of 
Ulster,  some  three  hundred  years  before  Christ,  as  a  terminus 
from  which  we  may  begin  to  place  some  confidence  in  Irish 
accounts,  seeing  that  the  Annals  carry  back  the  list  of  Irish 
kings  with  apparently  equal  certainty  for  centuries  past  him, 
and  back  even  to  the  coming  of  the  Milesians,  which  took 
place  at  the  lowest  computation  some  six  or  seven  hundred 
years  before.  All  that  can  be  said  in  answer  to  this,  is  to 
point  out  that  there  must  have  been  hundreds  of  documents 
existing  at  the  time  when  Tighearnach  wrote,  "  the  countless 
hosts  of  the  illuminated  books  of  the  men  of  Erin,"  as  his  con- 
temporary Angus  called  them — records  of  the  past  which  he 
was  able  to  examine  and  consult,  but  which  we  are  not. 


1  To  start  with  Cimbaeth  as  Tighearnach  does  "  is  just  as  uncritical  as 
to  take  the  whole  tale  of  kings  from  the  very  beginning,"  says  Dr. 
Atkinson,  in  his  preface  to  the  Contents  of  the  facsimile  Book  of  Leinster  ; 
and  he  adds,  "  if  the  kings  who  are  supposed  to  have  lived  about  fifteen 
centuries  before  Christ  are  mere  figments,  which  is  tolerably  certain,  there 
is  little  more  reason  for  believing  in  the  kings  who  reigned  after  Christ 
prior  to  the  introduction  of  writing  with  Christianity  (sic)  into  the  island," 
— an  unconvincing  sorites!  One  hundred  and  thirty-six  pagan  and  six 
Christian  kings  in  all  reigned  at  Tara  according  to  the  fictions  of  the  Bards. 


CAN  NATIVE   SOURCES  BE  RELIED   ON?    43 

Tighearnach  was  a  professed  annalist,  "a  modern  but  cautious 
chronicler,"  x  and  for  his  age  a  very  well-instructed  man,  and 
it  seems  evident  that  he  would  not  have  placed  the  founding 
of  Emania  as  a  terminus  a  quo  if  he  had  not  inferred  rightly  or 
wrongly  that  native  accounts  could  be  fairly  trusted  from  that 
forward.  It  certainly  creates  some  feeling  of  confidence  to 
find  him  pushing  aside  as  uncertain  and  unproven  the  arid  roll 
of  kings  so  confidently  carried  back  for  hundreds  of  years 
before  his  starting-point.  The  historic  sense  was  well 
developed  in  Tighearnach,  and  he  no  doubt  discredited  these 
far-reaching  claims  either  because  he  could  not  find  sufficiently 
early  documentary  evidence  to  corroborate  them,  or  more 
likely  because  such  accounts  as  he  had  access  to,  began  to 
contradict  one  another  and  were  unable  to  stand  any  scrutiny 
from  this  time  backwards.  With  him  it  was  probably  largely 
a  question  of  documents.  But  this  brings  us  at  once  to  the 
question,  when  did  the  Irish  learn  the  use  of  letters  and  begin 
to  write,  to  which  we  shall  turn  our  attention  in  a  future 
chapter. 

1  Dr.  Whitley  Stokes'  "Tripartite  Life  of  St.  Patrick,"  vol.  i.  p.  cxxix. 
"  That  Tighearnach  had  access  to  some  library  or  libraries  furnished  with 
books  of  every  description  is  manifest  from  his  numerous  references  ;  and 
the  correctness  of  his  citations  from  foreign  authors,  with  whose  works 
we  are  acquainted  may  be  taken  as  a  surety  for  the  genuineness  of  his 
extracts  from  the  writings  of  our  own  native  authors  now  lost."  For  the 
non-Irish  portions  of  his  annals  Tighearnach  used,  as  Stokes  has  shown, 
St.  Jerome's  "  Interpretatio  Chronicae  Eusebii  Pamphili,"  the  seven  books 
of  the  history  of  Paulus  Orosius,  "  The  Chronicon,  or  Account  of  the  Six 
Ages  of  the  World,"  in  Bede's  Works,  "The  Vulgate,"  "The  Etymolo- 
garium,"  "  Libri  XX  of  Isodorus  Hispalensis,"  Josephus'  "  Antiquities  of 
the  Jews,"  probably  in  a  Latin  translation,  and  perhaps  the  lost  Chronicon 
of  Julius  Africanus. 


CHAPTER  V 

THE    PRE-MILESIAN    FABLE    AND    EARLY    PANTHEON 

IN  investigating  the  very  early  history  of  Ireland  we  are  met 
with  a  mass  of  pseudo-historic  narrative  and  myth,  woven 
together  into  an  apparently  homogeneous  whole,  and  all  now 
posing  as  real  history.  This  is  backed  up,  and  eked  out,  by  a 
most  elaborate  system  of  genealogy  closely  interwoven  with 
it,  which,  together  with  a  good  share  of  the  topographical 
nomenclature  of  the  island,  is  there  to  add  its  entire  influence 
to  that  of  historian  and  annalist  in  apparently  attesting  the 
truth  of  what  these  latter  have  recorded. 

If  in  seeking  for  a  path  through  this  maze  we  grasp  the 
skirt  of  the  genealogist  and  follow  his  steps  for  a  clue,  we  shall 
find  ourselves,  in  tracing  into  the  past  the  ancestry  of  any 
Milesian  chief,  invariably  landed  at  the  foot  of  some  one 
of  four  persons,  three  of  them,  Ir,  Eber,  Eremon,1  being  sons 
of  that  Milesius  who  made  the  Milesian  conquest,  and  the 
fourth  being  Lughaidh  [Lewy],  son  of  Ith,  who  was  a 
nephew  of  the  same.  On  one  or  other  of  these  four  does  the 
genealogy  of  every  chief  and  prince  abut,  so  that  all  end 
ultimately  in  Milesius. 

Milesius'  own  genealogy  and  the  wanderings  of  his  ancestors 

1  In  modern  times  spelt  Eibhear  [^Evir]  and  Eireamhoin  [^E 
44 


PRE-MILESIAN  FABLE  AND  PANTHEON     45 

are  also  recounted  for  many  generations  before  they  land  in 
Ireland,  but  during  this  pre-Milesian  period  there  are  no  side- 
genealogies,  the  ancestors  of  Milesius  himself  alone  are  given, 
traced  through  twenty-two  apparently  Gaelic  names  and 
thirteen  Hebrew  ones,  passing  through  Japhet  and  ending  in 
Adam.  It  is  only  with  the  landing  of  the  three  sons  and 
the  nephew  of  Milesius  that  the  ramifications  of  Irish  genea- 
logies begin,  and  they  are  backed  up  by  the  whole  weight  of 
the  Irish  topographical  system  which  is  shot  through  and 
through  with  places  named  after  personages  and  events  of  the 
early  Milesian  period,  and  of  the  period  of  the  Tuatha  De 
Danann. 

It  will  be  well  to  give  here  a  brief  resume  of  the  accounts  of 
the  Milesians'  wanderings  before  they  arrived  in  Ireland.  Briefly 
then  the  Gaels  are  traced  back  all  the  way  to  Fenius  Farsa,  a 
king  of  Scythia,  who  is  then  easily  traced  up  to  Adam.  But 
beginning  with  this  Fenius  Farsa  we  find  that  he  started  a 
great  school  for  learning  languages.  His  son  was  Niul,  who 
also  taught  languages,  and  his  son  again  was  Gaedhal,  from 
whom  the  Gaels  are  so  called.  .  This  Niul  went  into  Egypt 
and  married  Scota,  daughter  of  Pharaoh.  This  is  a  post- 
Christian  invention,  which  is  not  satisfied  without  bringing 
Niul  into  contact  with  Aaron,  whom  he  befriended,  in  return 
for  which  Moses  healed  his  son  Gaedhal  from  the  bite  of  a 
serpent.  Since  then  says  an  ancient  verse — 

"  No  serpent  nor  vile  venomed  thing 
Can  live  upon  the  Gaelic  soil, 
No  bard  nor  stranger  since  has  found 
A  cold  repulse  from  a  son  of  Gaedhal." 

Gaedhal's  son  was  Esru,  whose  son  was  Sru,  and  when  the 
Egyptians  oppressed  them  he  and  his  people  emigrated  to 
Crete.  His  son  was  Eber  Scot,  from  whom  some  say  the 
Gaels  were  called  Scots,  but  most  of  the  Irish  antiquarians 
maintain  that  they  are  called  Scots  because  they  once  came 


46        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

from  Scythia,1  to  which  cradle  of  the  race  Eber  Scot  led  the 
nation  back  again.  Expelled  from  Scythia  a  couple  of  genera- 
tions later  the  race  plant  themselves  in  the  country  of  Gaeth- 
luighe,  where  they  were  ruled  over  by  one  called  Eber  of 
the  White  Knee.  The  eighth  in  descent  from  him  emigrated 
with  four  ships  to  Spain.  His  son  was  Breogan,  who  built 
Brigantia.  His  grandson  was  Golamh,  called  Miledh  Easpain, 
/.*.,  Warrior  of  Spain,2  whose  name  has  been  universally,  but 
badly,  Latinised  Milesius,  and  it  was  his  three  sons  and  his 
nephew  who  landed  in  Ireland  and  who  planted  there  the 
Milesian  people.  Milesius  himself  never  put  foot  in  Ireland, 
but  he  seems  in  his  own  person  to  have  epitomised  the 
wanderings  of  his  race,  for  we  find  him  returning  to  Scythia, 
making  his  way  thence  into  Egypt,  marrying  Scota,  a  daughter 
of  Pharaoh,  and  finally  returning  to  Spain. 

Much  or  all  of  this  pre-Milesian  account  of  the  race  must  be 
unhesitatingly  set  down  to  the  influence  of  Christianity,  and 
to  the  invention  of  early  Christian  bards  who  felt  a  desire  to 
trace  their  kings  back  to  Japhet.3  The  native  unchristianised 

1  It  is  just  as  likely  that,  as  the  only  name  of  any  people  known  to  the 
early  Irish  antiquaries  which  bore  some  resemblance  to  their  own  was 
Scythia,  they  said  that  the  Scoti  came  from  thence. 

2  "  The  race  of  the  warrior  of  Spain  "  continued  until  recent  times  to  be 
a  favourite  bardic  synonym  for  the  Milesians.    There  is  a  noble  war  ode 
by  one  of  the  O'Dalys  which  I  found  preserved  in  the  so-called  "  Book  of 
the  O'Byrnes,"  in  Trinity  College  Library,  in  which  he  celebrates  a  victory 
of  the  O'Byrnes  of  Wicklow  over  the  English  about  the  year  1580  in 
these  words  : — 

"  Sgeul  tdsgmhar  do  rdinigfd  chriochaibh  Fail 
Da  tdinig  Idn-tuile  i  nGaoidhiltigh  (?)  Chldir. 
Do  chloinn  aird  dithiosaigh  Mhile  Easpdin 
Toisg  airmioch  (?),  ar  Idr  an  laoi  ghil  bhdin." 

It  is  to  be  observed  that  of  the  four  great  Irish  stocks  the  descendants  of 
Ith  are  often  called  the  Clanna  Breogain. 

3  Nennius,  in  the  time  of  Charlemagne,  quotes  the  Annals  of  the  Scots, 
and  the  narrative  of  the  peritissimi  Scotorum  as  his  authorities  for  deducing 
the  Scots,  i.e.  Irish,  from  a  family  of  Scythia,  who  fled  out  of  Egypt  with 
the  children  of   Israel,   which  shows    that    the  original    narrative  had 
assumed  this   Christian  form  in  the  eighth  century.      In  the  Book  of 


PRE-MILESIAN  FABLE  AND  PANTHEON     47 

genealogies  all  converge  in  the  sons  and  nephew  of  Milesius. 
The  legends  of  their  exploits  and  those  of  their  successors  are 
the  real  race-heritage  of  the  Gael,  unmixed  with  the  fanciful 
Christian  allusions  and  Hebraic  adulterations  of  the  pre- 
Milesian  story,  which  was  the  last  to  be  invented. 

The  genuine  and  early  combination  of  Irish  myth  and  history 
centres  not  on  foreign  but  on  Irish  soil,  in  the  accounts  of  the 
Nemedians,  the  Firbolg,  the  Tuatha  De  Danann,  and  the  early 
Milesians,  accounts  which  have  been  handed  down  to  us  in  short 
stories  and  more  lengthy  sagas,  as  well  as  in  the  bold  brief 
chronicles  of  the  annalists.  No  doubt  the  stories  of  the  landing 
of  his  race  on  Irish  soil,  and  the  exploits  of  his  first  chieftains  were 
familiar  in  the  early  days  to  every  Gael.  They  became,  as  it 
were,  part  and  parcel  of  his  own  life  and  being,  and  were  pre- 
served with  something  approaching  a  religious  veneration.  His 
belief  in  them  entered  into  his  whole  political  and  social  system, 
the  holding  of  his  tribe-lands  was  bound  up  with  it,  and  a  highly- 
paid  and  influential  class  of  bardic  historians  was  subsidised 
with  the  express  purpose  of  propagating  these  traditions  and 
maintaining  them  unaltered. 

Everything  around  him  recalled  to  the  early  Gael  the 
traditional  history  of  his  own  past.  The  two  hills  of  Slieve 
Luachra  in  Kerry  he  called  the  paps  of  Dana,1  and  he  knew 
that  Dana  was  the  mother  of  the  gods  Brian,  luchar,  and 
lucharba,  the  story  of  whose  sufferings,  at  the  hands  of  Lugh 

Invasions — the  earliest  MS.  of  which  is  of  the  twelfth  century—  the  Christian 
invention  has  made  considerable  strides,  and  we  start  from  Magog,  Japhet, 
and  Noah,  and  from  the  Tower  of  Babel  pass  into  Egypt.  Nel  or  Niul  is 
called  from  the  Plain  of  Senaar  to  the  Court  of  Pharaoh,  and  marries  his 
daughter  Scota,  and  their  son  is  named  Gaedhal.  They  have  their  own 
exodus,  and  arrive  in  Scythia  after  many  adventures  ;  thence  into  Spain, 
where  Breogan  built  the  tower  from  whose  top  Ireland  was  seen.  It  would 
seem  from  this  that  the  later  writer  of  the  Book  of  Invasions  enhanced  the 
simpler  account  which  the  Irish  had  given  Nennius  three  or  four  centuries 
before.  Zimmer,  however,  thinks  that  Nennius  quoted  from  a  preceding 
Book  of  Invasions  now  lost. 
1  Da  chich  Danainne. 


48        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

the  Long-handed,  has  in  later  times  so  often  drawn  tears  from 
its  auditors.  When  he  beheld  the  mighty  barrows  piled  upon 
the  banks  of  the  Boyne,1  he  knew  that  it  was  over  the 
Dagda — an  Irish  Jupiter — and  over  his  three  sons  2  that  they 
were  heaped  ;  and  one  of  these,  Angus  of  the  Boyne,  was,  down 
to  the  present  century,  reverenced  as  the  presiding  genius  of  the 
spot.  The  mighty  monuments  of  Knock  Aine  in  Limerick, 
and  Knock  Greine,  as  well  as  those  of  Knowth,  Dowth,  and 
New  Grange,  were  all  connected  with  his  legendary  past.  It 
was  Lugh  of  the  Tuatha  De  Danann,  he  knew,  who  had  first 
established  the  great  fair  of  Tailltin,3  to  which  he  and  his 
friends  went  from  year  to  year  to  meet  each  other,  and  contract 
alliances  for  their  grown  children.  The  great  funeral  mound, 
round  which  the  games  were  held,  was  sacred  to  Talti,  the  foster- 
mother  of  Lugh,  who  had  there  been  buried,  and  in  whose 
honour  the  games  in  which  he  participated  were  held  upon  the 
day  which  he  called — and  still  calls,  though  he  has  now  for- 
gotten why — Lughnasa  or  Lugh's  gathering.4  His  own 
country  he  called — and  still  calls — by  the  various  names  of 
Eire,  Fodhla  [Fola],  and  Banba,  and  they,  as  he  knew,  were 
three  queens  5  of  the  Tuatha  De  Danann.  The  Gael  of 
Connacht  knew  that  Moycullen,  near  Galway,  was  so  named 
from  Uillin,  a  grandson  of  the  Tuatha  De  Danann  king 
Nuada ;  and  Loch  Corrib  from  Orbsen,  the  other  name  of  the 
sea-god  Manannan,  slain  there  by  this  Uillin,  and  each  of  the 
provinces  was  studded  with  such  memorials. 

The  early  Milesian  invaders  left  their  names  just  as  closely 

1  Sidh  an  Bhrogha  [Shee  in  Vrow-a]. 

2  Aengus,  Aedh,  and  Cermad. 

3  Now  monstrously  called  Telltown  by  the  Ordnance  Survey  people,  as 
though  to  make  it  as  like  an  English  word  as  possible,  quite  heedless  of  the 
remonstrance  of  the  great  topographer  O'Donavan,  and  of  the  fact  that 
they  are  demolishing  a  great  national  landmark. 

4  Or  perhaps  "  Lugh's  Memorial."    Lughnas  is  the  1st  of  August,  and 
the  month  has  received  its  name  in  Irish  from  Lugh's  gathering. 

s  The  Irish  translation  of  Nennius  ascribed  to  Giolla  Caoimhghin  [Gilla 
Keevin],  who  died  in  1012,  calls  them  goddesses,  "  tri  bande  Folia  Banba 
ocus  Eire." 


PRE-MILESIAN  FABLE  AND  PANTHEON     49 

imprinted  upon  our  topography  as  did  their  predecessors  the 
Tuatha  De  Danann.  The  great  plain  of  Bregia  in  Meath  was 
so  called  from  Brega,  son  of  that  Breogan  who  built  Brigantia. 
Slieve  Cualann  in  Wicklow — now  hideously  and  absurdly  called 
the  Great  Sugar  Loaf ! — is  named  from  Cuala,  another  son  of 
Breogan  ;  Slieve  Bladhma,  or  Bloom,  is  called  from  another  son 
of  the  same  ;  and  from  yet  another  is  named  the  Plain  of 
Muirthemni,  where  was  fought  the  great  battle  in  which  fell 
Cuchulain  "fortissimus  heros  Scotorum."  The  south  of 
Munster  is  called  Corca  Luighe  from  Lughaidh,  son  of  Ith, 
nephew  of  Milesius.  The  harbour  of  Drogheda  was  called 
Inver  Colpa,  from  Colpa  of  the  sword,  another  son  of  Milesius, 
who  was  there  drowned  when  trying  to  effect  a  landing. 
The  Carlingford  Mountains  were  called  Slieve  Cualgni,  and 
a  well-known  mountain  in  Armagh  Slieve  Fuad,  from  two 
more  sons  of  Breogan  of  Brigantia,  slain  after  the  second 
battle  with  the  Tuatha  De  Danann,  while  they  followed  up 
the  chase.  The  sandhills  in  the  west  of  Munster,  where 
Donn,  the  eldest  son  of  Milesius,  was  shipwrecked  and  lost  his 
life — as  did  his  whole  crew  consisting  as  is  said  of  twenty-four 
warriors,  five  chiefs,  twelve  women,  four  servants,  eight 
rowers,  and  fifty  youths-in-training — is  called  Donn's  House. 
So  vivid  is  this  tradition  even  still,  that  we  find  a  Munster  poet 
as  late  as  the  last  century  addressing  a  poem  to  this  Donn  as 
the  tutelary  divinity  of  the  place,  and  asking  him  to  take  him 
into  his  sidh  [shee]  or  fairy  mound  and  become  his  patron. 
This  poem  is  remarkable,  as  showing  that  in  popular  opinion 
the  early  Milesians  shared  the  character  of  sub-gods,  fairies,  or 
beings  of  supernatural  power,  in  common  with  the  Tuatha 
De  Danann  themselves,  for  the  poet  treats  him  as  still  living 
and  reigning  in  state,  as  peer  of  Angus  of  the  Boyne,  and 
cousin  of  Cliona,  queen  of  the  Munster  fairies.1  Wherever  he 

1  It  is  worth  while  to  quote  some  of  these  hitherto  unpublished  verses 
from  a  copy  in  my  possession.  The  author,  Andrew  Mac  Curtin,  a  good 
scholar  and  poet  of  Munster,  knew  of  course  perfectly  well  that  Donn 

D 


50        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

turned  the  Gael  was  thus  confronted  with  scenes  from  his  own 
past,  or  with  customs — like  the  August  games  at  Tailltin — 
deliberately  established  to  perpetuate  them. 

In  process  of  time,  partly  perhaps  through  the  rationalising 
influences  of  a  growing  civilisation,  but  chiefly  through  the 
direct  action  of  Christianity,  with  which  he  came  into  active 
contact  in  perhaps  the  fourth,  or  certainly  in  the  fifth  cen- 
tury, the  remembrance  of  the  old  Gaelic  theogony,  and  the  old 
Gaelic  deities  and  his  religious  belief  in  them  became  blunted, 
and  although  no  small  quantity  of  matter  that  is  purely  pagan, 
and  an  immense  amount  of  matter,  but  slightly  tinged  with 
Christianity,  has  been  handed  down  to  us,  yet  gods,  heroes, 

was  a  Milesian,  yet  he,  embodying  in  his  poem  the  popular  opinion  on  the 
subject,  treats  him  as  a  god  or  superior  being,  calls  him  brother  or  cousin 
of  Aine  and  Aoife  [Eefi]  and  "  of  the  great  son  of  Lear  [i.e.  Manannan], 
who  used  to  walk  the  smooth  sea,"  and  relates  him  to  Angus  Og,  and  Lugh 
the  Long-handed,  says  that  he  witnessed  the  tragedy  of  the  sons  of  Usnach, 
the  feats  of  Finn  mac  Cool,  and  the  battle  of  Clontarf,  and  treats  him  as 
still  living  and  powerful.  The  poem  begins,  Beannughadh  doimhin  duit  a 
Dhoinn  na  Ddibhchc.  It  goes  on  to  say — 

"  Nach  tu  brathair  Aine  as  Aoife 
A's  mic  an  Deaghadh  do  b'  ard-fhlaith  ar  tiorthaibh, 
A's  moir-mhic  Lir  do  ritheadh  an  mhin-mhuir 
Dhoinn  Chnuic-na-ndos  agus  Dhoinn  Chnuic  Firinn'  ? 
Nach  tu  gan^doirbhe  do  h-oileadh  'san  riogh-bhrogh 
Ag  Aongus  6g  na  Boinne  caoimhe, 
Do  bhi  tu  ag  Lugha  ad'  chongnamh  i  gcaoinsgir  [cath] 
Ag  claoidh  Balair  a  dhanar  's  a  dhraoithe. 
Do  bhi  tu  ag  maidhm  anaghaidh  mic  Mhiledh 
Ag  teacht  asteach  thar  neart  na  gaoithe  : 
'S  na  dhiaigh  sin  i  gciantaibh  ag  Naoise  ; 
Do  bhi  tu  ag  Conall  'san  gcosgar  do  bh'  aoirde 
Ag  ceann  de'n  ghad  de  cheannaibh  righteadh  : 
Budh  thaoiseach  treasa  i  gcathaibh  Chuinn  thu." 

The  allusion  in  the  last  line  but  one  is  to  the  heads  that  Conall  Cearnach 
strung  upon  the  gad  or  rod,  to  avenge  the  death  of  Cuchulain,  for  which 
see  later  on. 

Curtin  finally  asks  Donn  to  let  him  into  his  fairy  mansion,  if  not  as  a 
poet  to  enliven  his  feasts,  then  at  least  as  a  horse-boy  to  groom  his  horses. 

"  Munar  bhodhar  thu  o  throm  ghuth  na  taoide 
No  mur  bhfuarais  bas  mar  chach  a  Dhoinn  ghil,"  &c. 

I.e.,  "  unless  thou  hast  grown  deaf  by  the  constant  voice  of  the  tide,  or 
unless,  O  bright  Donn,  thou  hast  died  like  everybody  else  !  " 


PRE-MILESIAN  FABLE  AND  PANTHEON     51 

and  men  have  been  so  far  brought  to  a  common  level,  that  it 
is  next  to  impossible  at  first  sight  to  disentangle  them  or  to  say 
which  is  which. 

Very  probably  there  was,  even  before  the  introduction  of 
Christianity,  no  sharply-defined  line  of  demarcation  drawn 
between  gods  and  heroes,  that,  in  the  words  of  Pindar,  £v 
avSpuv  ev  Gewv  ycvoc,  "  one  was  the  race  of  gods  and  men," 
and  when  in  after  times  the  early  mythical  history  of  Ireland 
came  to  be  committed  to  parchment,  its  historians  saw  in  the 
Irish  pantheon  nothing  but  a  collection  of  human  beings.  It 
is  thus,  no  doubt,  that  we  find  the  Fomorians  and  the  Tuatha 
De  Danann  posing  as  real  people,  whilst  in  reality  it  is  more 
than  likely  that  they  figured  in  the  scheme  of  Gaelic  mythology 
as  races  of  beneficent  gods  and  of  evil  deities,  or  at  least  as 
races  of  superhuman  power. 

The  early  Irish  writers  who  redacted  the  mythical  history 
of  the  country  were  no  doubt  imbued  with  the  spirit  of  the 
so-called  Greek  "  logographers,"  who,  when  collecting  the 
Grecian  myths  from  the  poets,  desired,  while  not  eliminating 
the  miraculous,  yet  to  smooth  away  all  startling  discrepancies 
and  present  them  in  a  readable  and,  as  it  were,  a  historical 
series.1  Others  no  doubt  wished  to  rationalise  the  early  myths 
so  far  as  they  conveniently  could,  as  even  Herodotus  shows  an 
inclination  to  do  with  regard  to  the  Greek  marvels  ;  and  the 
later  annalists  and  poets  of  the  Irish  went  as  far  as  ever  went 
Euhemerus,  reducing  gods  and  heroes  alike  to  the  level  of 
common  men. 

We  find  Keating,  who  composed  in  Irish  his  Forus  Feasa 
or  History,  in  the  first  half  of  the  seventeenth  century, 
and  who  only  re-writes  or  abbreviates  what  he  found  before 
him  in  the  ancient  books  of  the  Gaels  now  lost,  distracted 
between  his  desire  to  euhemerise — in  pther  words,  to  make 
mere  men  of  the  gods  and  heroes — and  his  unflinching  fidelity 

1  Hellanikus,  one  of  the  best  known  of  these,  went  so  far  as  to  give  the 
very  year,  and  even  the  very  day  of  the  capture  of  Troy. 


52        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

to  his  ancient  texts.  Thus  he  professes  to  give  the  names  of 
"the  most  famous  and  noble  persons  of  the  Tuatha  De  Danann," 
and  amongst  them  he  mentions  "  the  six  sons  of  Delbaeth,  son 
of  Ogma,  namely,  Fiacadh,  Ollamh,  Indaei,  Brian,  luchar, 
and  lucharba"  *  but  in  another  place  he  quotes  this  verse  from 
some  of  his  ancient  sources — 

"  Brian  lucharba  and  the  great  luchar, 
The  three  gods  of  the  sacred  race  of  Dana, 
Fell  at  Mana  on  the  resistless  sea 
By  the  hand  of  Lughaidh,  son  of  Ethlenn." 

These  whom  the  ancient  verse  distinctly  designates  as  gods, 
Keating  makes  merely  "  noble  persons,"  but  at  the  very  same 
time  in  treating  of  the  De  Danann  he  interpolates  amongst  his 
list  of  their  notable  men  and  women  this  curious  sentence  : 2 

1  Mac  Firbis,  in  his  great  MS.  book  of  genealogies,  marks  the  mythical 
character  of  these  personages  still  more  clearly,  for  in  his  short  chapter 
on  the  Tuatha  De  Danann  he  describes  them  as  of  light  yellow  hair,  etc. 
[monga  finbuidhe  orra],  and  gives  the  names  of  their  three  Druids  and 
their  three  distributors,  who  were  called  Enough,  Plenty,  Filling  [Sdith, 
Leor,  Linad] ;  their  three  gillies,  three  horses,  three  hounds,  three  musicians  ; 
Music  Sweet  and  Sweetstring  [Ceol  Bind  Tetbind],  and  so  on,  all  evidently 
allegorical.    See  facsimile  of  the  Book  of  Leinster,  p.  30,  col.  4, 1.  40,  and 
p.  187,  col.  3, 1.  55,  for  the  oldest  form  of  this. 

2  The  following  is  the  whole  quotation  from  O'Mahony's  Keating  (for  an 
account  of  this  book  see  below,  p.  556)  :  "  Here  follows  an  enumeration 
of  the  most  famous  and  noble  persons  of  the  Tuatha  Da  Danann,  viz., 
Eochaidh  the  Ollamh  called  the  Dagda,  Ogma,  Alloid,  Bres,  and  Delbaeth, 
the  five  sons  of  Elathan,  son  of  Niad,  and  Manannan,  son  of  Alloid, 
son  of    Delbaeth.    The  six  sons  of  Delbaeth,   son   of   Ogma,   namely, 
Fiachadh,  Ollamh,  Indaei,  Brian,  luchar,  and  lucharba.    Aengus  Aedh 
Kermad  and  Virdir,  the  four  sons  of  the  Dagda.     Lughaidh,  son  of  Cian, 
son  of  Diancecht,  sons  of  Esary,  son  of  Niad,  son  of  Indaei.     Gobnenn  the 
smith,  Credni  the  artist,  Diancecht  the  physician,  Luchtan  the  mason,  and 
Carbni  the  poet,  son  of  Tura,  son  of  Turell.    Begneo,  son  of  Carbni,  Cat- 
cenn,  son  of  Tabarn,  Fiachadh,  son  of  Delbaeth,  with  his  son  Ollamh, 
Caicer  and  Nechtan,  the  two  sons  of  Namath.    Eochaidh  the  rough,  son 
of  Duach  Dall.     Sidomel,  the  son  of  Carbri  Crom,  son  of  Elcmar,  son  of 
Delbaeth.    Eri  Fodhla  and  Banba,  the  three  daughters  of  Fiachadh,  son 
of  Delbaeth,  son  of  Ogma,  and  Ernin,  daughter  of  Edarlamh,  the  mother 
of  these  women.    The  following  are  the  names  of  their  three  goddesses, 
viz.,  Badhbh,  Macha,  and  Morighan.     Bechoil  and  Danaan  were  their  two 
Ban-tuathachs,  or  chief  ladies,  Brighid  was  their  poetess.    Fe  and  Men 


PRE-MILESIAN  FABLE  AND  PANTHEON     53 

"  The  following  are  the  names  of  three  of  their  goddesses,  viz., 
Badhbh.  [Bive],  Macha,  and  Morighan."  * 

There  are  many  allusions  to  the  old  Irish  pantheon  in 
Cormac's  Glossary,  which  is  a  compilation  of  the  ninth  or  tenth 
century  explanatory  of  expressions  which  had  even  at  that  early 
date  become  obscure  or  obsolete,  and  many  of  these  are  evidently 
of  pagan  origin.  Cormac  describes  Ana  as  mater  deorum  hiber- 
nensium^  the  mother  of  the  Irish  gods,  and  he  adds,  "Well 
used  she  to  nourish  the  gods,  it  is  from  her  name  is  said  *  anae,' 
/.*.,  abundance,  and  from  her  name  is  called  the  two  paps  of 
Ana."  Buanann,  says  Cormac,  was  the  "  nurse  of  heroes,"  as 
"  Anu  was  mother  of  the  gods,  so  Buanann  was  mother  of  the 
c  Fiann.' "  Etan  was  nurse  of  the  poets.  Brigit,  of  which 
we  have  now  made  a  kind  of  national  Christian  name,  was  in 
pagan  times  a  female  poet,  daughter  of  the  Dagda.  Her 
divinity  is  evident  from  what  Cormac  says  of  her,  namely,  that 
"  she  was  a  goddess  whom  poets  worshipped,  for  very  great 
and  very  noble  was  her  superintendence,  therefore  call  they 
her  goddess  of  poets  by  this  name,  whose  sisters  were  Brigit, 
woman  of  smith- work,  and  Brigit,  woman  of  healing,  namely, 
goddesses — from  whose  names  Brigit  2  was  with  all  Irishmen 
called  a  goddess,"  *.*.,  the  terms  "Brigit"  and  "goddess"  were 
synonymous  (?)  The  name  itself  he  derives  fancifully  from 
the  words  breo-shaighit^  "fiery  arrow,"  as  though  the  inspirations 

were  the  ladies  or  ban-tuathachs  of  their  two  king-bards,  and  from  them 
Magh  Femen  in  Munster  has  its  name.  Of  them  also  was  Triathri  Tore, 
from  whom  Tretherni  in  Munster  is  called.  Cridinbhel,  Brunni,  and 
Casmael  were  their  three  satirists." 

1  O' Curry,  who,  like  his  great  compeer  O'Donovan,  naturally  took  the 
De  Danann  to  be  a  real  race  of  men,  comically  calls  these  goddesses 
"  three  of  the  noble  non-professional  druidesses  of  the  Tuatha  De  Danann." 
(u  M.  and  C.,"  vol.  ii.  p.  187).    We  have  seen  how  the  Irish  Nennius  calls 
the  three  queens  of  the  De  Danann  goddesses  also. 

2  The  "  g  "  of  Brigit  was  pronounced  in  Old  Irish  so  that  the  word  rhymed 
to    English    spiggit.     In    later   times   the  "  g "  became    aspirated    and 
silent,  the  "  t "   turned  into  "  d,"   and    the   word    is  now  pronounced 
"  B'reed,"  and  in  English  very  often  <(  Bride,"  which  is  an  improvement 
on  the  hideous  Brid-get. 


54        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

of  a  poet  pierced  like  fiery  arrows.  Diancecht  Cormac  calls 
"  the  sage  of  the  leech-craft  of  Ireland,"  but  in  the  next  line 
we  read  that  he  was  so  called  because  he  was  "  Dia  na  c£cht," 
i.e.y  Deus  salutis,  or  god  of  health.  Zeuss  quotes  an  incantation 
to  this  god  from  a  manuscript  which  is,  he  says,  at  least  a 
thousand  years  old.  His  daughter  was  Etan,  an  artificer,  one 
of  whose  sayings  is  quoted  by  Cormac.  Neith  was  the  god  of 
battle  among  the  Irish  pagans,  Nemon  was  his  wife.  The 
euhemerising  tendency  comes  out  strongly  in  Cormac's 
account  of  Manannan,  a  kind  of  Irish  Proteus  and  Neptune 
combined,  who  according  to  him  was  "a  renowned  trader 
who  dwelt  in  the  Isle  of  Man,  he  was  the  best  pilot  in  the 
West  of  Europe  ;  through  acquaintance  with  the  sky  he  knew 
the  quarter  in  which  would  be  fair  weather  and  foul  weather, 
and  when  each  of  these  two  seasons  would  change.  Hence 
the  Scots  and  Britons  called  him  a  god  of  the  sea.  Thence, 
too,  they  said  he  was  the  sea's  son — Mac  Lir,  i.e.y  son  of  the 
sea." 

Another  ancient  Irish  gloss  *  alludes  to  the  mysterious 
Mor-rigan  or  war-goddess,  of  whom  we  shall  hear  more  later 
on  ;  and  to  Machae,  another  war-goddess,  "  of  whom  is  said 
Machae's  mast-feeding,"  meaning  thereby,  u  the  heads  of  men 
that  have  been  slaughtered." 

From  all  that  we  have  said  it  clearly  appears  that  carefully 
as  the  Christianised  Irish  strove  to  euhemerise  their  pantheon, 
they  were  unable  to  succeed.  If,  as  Keating  acknowledges, 
Brian,  luchar,  and  lucharba  were  gods,  then  a  fortiori  much 
more  so  must  have  been  the  more  famous  Lugh,  who  compassed 
their  death,  and  the  Dagda,  and  Angus  Og.  Keating  himself, 
in  giving  us  a  list  of  the  famous  Tuatha  De  Danann  has 
probably  given  us  also  the  names  of  a  large  number  of  primitive 
Celtic  deities — not  that  these  were  at  all  confined  to  the  De 
Danann  tribes. 

It  is  remarkable  that  there  is  no  mention  of  temples  nor  of 
1  H.  2,  16,  col.  119.     Quoted  by  Stokes,  "  Old  Irish  Glossaries,"  p.  xxxv. 


' 


PRE-MILESIAN  FABLE  AND  PANTHEON     55 

churches  dedicated  to  these  Irish  gods,  nor  do  we  find  any  of 
those  inscriptions  to  them  which  are  so  common  in  Gaul, 
Belgium,  Switzerland,  and  even  Britain,  but  they  appear  from 
passages  in  Cormac's  Glossary  x  to  have  had  altars  and  images 
dedicated  to  them. 

We  are  forced,  then,  to  come  to  the  conclusion  that  the 
pagan  Irish  once  possessed  a  large  pantheon,  probably  as  highly 
organised  as  that  of  the  Scandinavians,  but  owing  to  their 
earlier  and  completer  conversion  to  Christianity  only  traces  of 
it  now  remain. 

1  See  the  word  "  Hindelba  "  in  the  Glossary  which  is  thus  explained,  "  i.e., 
the  names  of  the  altars  or  of  those  idols  from  the  thing  which  they  used 
to  make(?)  on  them,  namely,  the  delba  or  images  of  everything  which 
they  used  to  worship  or  of  the  beings  which  they  used  to  adore,  as,  for 
instance,  the  form  or  figure  of  the  sun  on  the  altar."  Again,  the  word 
"  Hidoss  "  is  explained  as  coming  from  "  the  Greek  f-Uog  which  is  found  in 
Latin,  from  which  the  word  idolum,  namely,  the  shapes  or  images 
[arrachta]  of  the  idols  [or  elements]  which  the  Pagans  used  formerly  to 
make." 


CHAPTER   VI 

EVIDENCE    OF   TOPOGRAPHY    AND    GENEALOGY 

THE  ramifications  of  early  Irish  literary  history  and  its  claims 
to  antiquity  are  so  multiple,  intricate,  and  inter-connected,  that 
it  is  difficult  for  any  one  who  has  not  made  a  close  study  of  it 
to  form  a  conception  of  the  extent  it  covers  and  the  various 
districts  it  embraces.  The  early  literature  of  Ireland  is  so 
bound  up  with  the  early  history,  and  the  history  so  bound  up  and 
associated  with  tribal  names,  memorial  sites,  patronymics,  and 
topographical  nomenclature,  that  it  presents  a  kind  of  hetero- 
geneous whole,  that  which  is  recognised  history  running  into 
and  resting  upon  suspected  or  often  even  evident  myth,  while 
tribal  patronymics  and  national  genealogies  abut  upon  both, 
and  the  whole  is  propped  and  supported  by  legions  of  place- 
names  still  there  to  testify,  as  it  were,  to  the  truth  of  all. 

We  have  already  glanced  st  some  of  the  marks  left  by 
the  mysterious  De  Danann  race  upon  our  nomenclature. 
Mounds,  raths,  and  tumuli,  called  after  them,  dot  all  Ireland. 
It  is  the  same  with  the  early  Milesians.  It  is  the  same 
with  the  men  of  the  great  pseudo-historic  cycle  of  story- 
telling, that  of  Cuchulain  and  the  Red  Branch,  not  to  speak  of 
minor  cycles.  There  is  never  a  camping-ground  of  Meve's 
army  on  their  march  a  century  B.C.  from  Rathcroghan  in 

56 


TOPOGRAPHY  AND   GENEALOGY         57 

Roscommon  to  the  plain  of  Mochruime  in  Louth,  and  never 
a  skirmish  fought  by  them  that  has  not  given  its  name  to  some 
plain  or  camping-ground  or  ford.  Passing  from  the  heroes  of 
the  Red  Branch  to  the  history  of  Finn  mac  Cool  and  the 
Fenians,  we  find  the  same  thing.  Finn's  seat,  the  Hill  of  the 
Fenians,  Diarmuid  and  Grainne's  bed,  and  many  other  names 
derived  from  them  or  incidents  connected  with  them,  are 
equally  widely  scattered. 

The  question  now  arises,  does  the  undoubted  existence  of 
these  place-names,  many  of  them  mentioned  in  the  very  oldest 
manuscripts  we  have — these  manuscripts  being  only  copies  of 
still  more  ancient  ones  now  lost — mentioned,  too,  in  connec- 
tion with  the  celebrated  events  which  are  there  said  to  have 
given  them  their  names,  do  these  and  the  universally  received 
genealogies  of  historic  tribes  which  trace  themselves  back  to 
some  ancestor  who  figured  at  the  time  when  these  place-names 
were  imposed,  form  credible  witnesses  to  their  substantial 
truth  ?  In  other  words,  are  such  names  as  Creeveroe  x  (Red 
Branch)  given  to  the  spot  where  the  Red  Branch  heroes  have 
been  always  represented  as  residing  ;  or  Ardee  2  (Ferdia's  Ford) 
where  Cuchulain  fought  his  great  single  fight  with  that 
champion — are  these  to  be  accepted  as  collateral  evidence  of  the 
Red  Branch  heroes  of  Ferdia  and  of  Cuchulain  ?  Are  See- 
finn2  (Finn's  seat)  or  Rath  Coole2  (Cool's  rath)  to  be 
accepted  as  proving  the  existence  of  Finn  and  his  father 
Cool  ? 

In  my  opinion  no  stress,  or  very  little,  can  be  laid  upon  the 
argument  from  topography,  which  weighed  so  heavily  with 
Keating,  O'Donovan,  and  O'Curry,  for  if  it  is  admitted  at  all  it 
proves  too  much.  If  it  proves  the  objective  existence  of  Finn 

1  Craobh-ruadh. 

2  I.e.,  Ath-Fhirdia,  Suidhe  Fhinn,  Rath  Chumhail.    There  are  See-finns 
or  See-inns,  i.e.,  Finn's  seats  in  Cavan,  Armagh,  Down,  King's  County, 
Galway,  Mayo,  Sligo,  Tyrone,  and  perhaps  elsewhere,  and  there  are  many 
forts,  flats,  woods,  rivers,  bushes,  and  heaps,  which  derive  their  name  from 
the  Fenians. 


58        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

and  of  Cuchulain,  so  does  it  that  of  Dana,  "  the  mother  of  the 
gods,"  and  of  divinities  by  the  score.  Besides  the  Gaels  brought 
their  topographical  nomenclature  with  them  to  Alba,  and 
places  named  from  Finn  and  the  Fenians,  are  nearly  as  plentiful 
there  as  in  Ireland.  Wherever  the  early  Gaels  went  they  took 
with  them  their  heroic  legends,  and  wherever  they  settled  place- 
names  relating  to  their  legends  which  were  so  much  a  part  of 
their  intellectual  life,  grew  up  round  them  too.  Something  of 
the  same  kind  may  be  seen  in  Greece — a  land  which  presents 
so  many  and  so  striking  analogies  to  that  of  the  Gael  ;  for 
wherever  a  Grecian  colony  settled,  east  or  west,  it  was  full  of 
memorials  of  the  legendary  past,  and  Jasonia,  or  temples  of 
Jason,  and  other  memorials  of  the  voyage  of  the  Argonauts,  are 
to  be  found  from  Abdera  to  Thrace,  eastward  along  the  coast 
of  the  Euxine  and  in  the  heart  of  Armenia  and  Media,  just  as 
memorials  of  the  flight  of  Diarmuid  and  of  Grainne  from 
before  Finn  mac  Cool  may  be  found  wherever  the  Gael  are 
settled  in  Ireland,  in  Scotland,  or  the  Isles. 

Having  come  to  the  conclusion  that  Irish  topography  is 
useless  for  proving  the  genuineness  of  past  history,  let  us  look 
at  Irish  genealogy.  When  the  Mac  Carthys,  descendants  of 
Mac  Carthy  Mor,  trace  themselves  through  Oilioll  Olum,  king 
of  Ireland  in  the  second  century,  to  Eber  Finn,  son  of  Milesius  ; 
when  the  O'Briens  of  Thomond  trace  themselves  to  the  same 
through  Oilioll  Olum's  second  son  ;  when  the  O'Carrolls  of  Ely 
trace  themselves  to  the  same  through  Cian,  the  third  son  ;  when 
the  O'Neills  trace  themselves  back  through  Niall  of  the  Nine 
Hostages,  and  Conn  of  the  Hundred  Battles  to  Eremon,  son  of 
Milesius  ;  when  the  O'Driscolls  trace  themselves  to  Ith,  who 
was  uncle  of  Milesius ;  when  the  Magennises  trace  themselves 
through  Conall  Cearnach,  the  Red  Branch  hero,  back  to  Ir, 
the  son  of  Milesius  ;  and  when  every  sept  and  name  and  family 
and  clan  in  Ireland  fit  in,  and  even  in  our  oldest  manuscripts 
have  always  fitted  in,  each  in  its  own  place,  with  universally 
mutual  acknowledgment  and  unanimity,  each  man  carefully 


TOPOGRAPHY  AND   GENEALOGY         59 

counting  his  ancestors  through  their  hundredfold  ramifications, 
and  tracing  them  back  first  to  him  from  whom  they  get  their 
surname,  and  next  to  him  from  whom  they  get  their  tribe 
name,  and  from  thence  to  the  founder  of  their  house,  who  in 
his  turn  grafts  on  to  one  of  the  great  stems  (Eremonian,  Eberian, 
Irian,  or  Ithian)1 ;  and  when  not  only  political  friendships  and 
alliances,  but  the  very  holding  of  tribal  lands,  depended  upon 
the  strict  registration  and  observance  of  these  things — we  ask 
again  do  such  facts  throw  any  light  upon  the  credibility  of 
early  Irish  history  and  early  Irish  records  ? 

The  whole  intricate  system  of  Irish  genealogy,  jealously 
preserved  from  the  very  first,  as  all  Irish  literature  goes  to 
show,2  played  so  important  a  part  in  Irish  national  history  and 
in  Irish  social  life,  and  is  at  the  same  time  so  intimately  bound 
up  with  the  people's  traditions  and  literature,  and  throws  so 
much  light  upon  the  past,  that  it  will  be  well  to  try  to  get  a 
grip  of  this  curious  and  intricate  subject,  so  important  for  all 
who  would  attempt  to  arrive  at  any  knowledge  of  the  life  and 
feelings  of  the  Irish  and  Scottish  Gael,  and  upon  which  so 
much  formerly  depended  in  the  history  and  alliances  of  both 
races. 

All  Milesian  families  trace  themselves,  as  I  have  said,  to  one  or 
other  of  the  three  sons  of  Milesius,  who  were  Eremon,  Eber,  and 
Ir,  or  to  his  uncle  Ith,  who  landed  in  Ireland  at  any  time  between 


1  As  the  various  Teutonic  races  of  Germany  traced  themselves  up  to  one 
of  the  three  main  stems,  Ingasvones,  Iscsevones,  and  Herminones,  who 
sprang  from  the  sons  of  Mannus,  whose  father  was  the  god  Tuisco. 

2  A  large  part  of  the  Books  of  Leinster,  Ballymote,  and  Lecan,  is  occu- 
pied with  these  genealogies,  continued  up  to  date  in  each  book.  The  MSS. 
H.  3.  18  and  H.  2.  4  in  Trinity  College,  Dublin,  are  great  genealogical 
compilations.    Well-known  works  were  the  Book  of  the  genealogies  of  the 
Eugenians,  the  Book  of  Meath,  the  Book  of  the  Connellians  (i.e.,  of  Tir- 
connell),  the  genealogy  of  Brian,  son  of  Eochaidh's  descendants  (see  above, 
p.  33),  the  Book  of  Oriel,,  the  Genealogies  of  the  descendants  of  the  Three 
Collas  (see  above,  p.  33)  in  Erin  and  Scotland,  the  Book  of  the  Maineach 
(men  of  O' Kelly's  country),  the  Leinster  Book  of  Genealogies,  the  Ulster 
Book,  the  Munster  Book,  and  others. 


60        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

1700  and  800  years  before  Christ  according  to  Irish  computa- 
tion.1 But  while  they  all  trace  themselves  back  to  this  point, 
it  is  to  be  observed  that  long  before  they  reach  it,  in  each  of 
the  four  branches,  some  place  in  the  long  row  of  ancestors  is 
arrived  at,  some  name  occurs,  in  which  all  or  most  of  the 
various  genealogies  meet,  and  upon  which  all  the  branch  lines 
converge.  Thus  in  the  Eberian  families  it  is  found  that  they 
all  spring  from  the  three  sons  of  Oilioll  [Ul-yul]  Olum,  who 
according  to  all  the  annals  lived  in  the  second  century — in  this 
Oilioll  all  the  Eberian  families  converge. 

Again  all,  or  nearly  all,  the  Irians  trace  themselves  to  either 
Conall  Cearnach  or  Fergus  Mac  Roy,  the  great  Red  Branch 
champions  who  lived  in  the  North  shortly  before  the  birth  of 
Christ. 

The  tribes  of  the  Ithians,  the  least  numerous  and  least  im- 
portant of  the  four,  seem  to  meet  in  Mac  Con,  king  of  Ireland, 
who  lived  in  the  second  century,  and  who  is  the  hero  of  the 
saga  called  the  Battle  of  Moy  Mochruime,  where  Art,  son  of 
Conn  of  the  Hundred  Battles,  was  slain. 

In  the  line  of  Eremon  only,  the  greatest  of  the  four,  do  we 
find  two  pedigrees  which  meet  at  points  considerably  antecedent 
to  the  birth  of  Christ,  for  the  Dal  Riada  of  Scotland  join  the 
same  stem  as  the  O'Neills  as  much  as  390  years  before  Christ, 
and  the  O'Cavanaghs  at  a  still  more  remote  period,  in  the  reign 
of  Ugony  M6r.  But  setting  aside  these  two  families  we  find 
that  all  the  other  great  reigning  houses,  as  the  Mac  Donnells  of 
Antrim,  Maguires^of  Fermanagh,  O'Kellys  of  Connacht,  and 
others,  either  meet  in  the  third  century  in  Cairbre  of  the  Liffey, 
son  of  King  Cormac  mac  Art,  and  grandson  of  Conn  of  the 
Hundred  Battles ;  or  else  like  the  O'Neills  of  Tyrone, 
O'Donnells  of  Tirconnell,  O'Dogherties  of  Inishowen, 
O'Conors  of  Connacht,  O'Flaherties  of  Galway,  they  meet  in 
a  still  later  progenitor — the  father  of  Niall  of  the  Nine 
Hostages. 

1  See  above,  p.  17,  note  2. 


TOPOGRAPHY  AND   GENEALOGY         61 

It  will  be  best  to  examine  here  some  typical  Irish  pedigree 
that  we  may  more  readily  understand  the  system  in  its  simplest 
form,  and  see  how  families  branch  from  clans,  and  clans  from 
stems.  Let  us  take,  then,  the  first  pedigree  of  those  given  at 
the  end  of  the  Forus  Feasa,  that  of  Mac  Carthy  Mor,  and 
study  it  as  a  type. 

This  pedigree  begins  with  Donal,  who  was  the  first  of  the 
Mac  Carthys  to  be  created  Earl  of  Clancare,  or  Clancarthy,  in 
1565.  Starting  from  him  the  names  of  all  his  ancestors  are 
traced  back  to  Eber,  son  of  Milesius.  Passing  over  his  five 
immediate  ancestors,  we  come  to  the  sixth.  It  was  he  who 
built  the  monastery  of  Irriallach  on  the  Lake  of  Killarney. 
The  seventh  ancestor  was  Donal,  from  whose  brother  Donagh 
come  the  families  of  Ard  Canachta  and  Croc  Ornachta.  The 
tenth  was  Donal  Roe,  from  whom  come  the  Clan  Donal  Roe, 
and  from  whose  brother,  Dermot  of  Tralee,  come  the  family 
of  Mac  Finneens.  The  eleventh  was  Cormac  Finn,  from 
whom  come  also  the  Mac  Carthys  of  Duhallow  and  the  kings 
of  Desmond  ;  while  from  his  brother  Donal  come  the  Mac 
Carthys  Riabhach,  or  Grey  Mac  Carthys.  The  thirteenth  was 
Dermot  of  Kill  Baghani,  from  whom  come  the  Clan  Teig  Roe 
na  Sgarti.  The  fourteenth  was  Cormac  of  Moy  Tamhnaigh, 
from  whose  brother  Teig  come  the  Mac  Auliffes  of  Cork. 
The  fifteenth  was  Muireadach,  who  was  the  first  of  the  line  to 
assume  the  surname  of  Mac  Carthy,  which  he  did  from  his  father 
Carthach,  from  whom  all  the  Siol  Carthaigh  [Sheeol  Caurhy], 
or  Seed  of  Carthach,  including  the  Mac  Fineens,  Mac  Auliffes, 
etc.,  are  descended.  The  seventeenth  was  Saerbhrethach,  from 
whose  brother  Murrough  spring  the  sept  of  the  O'Callaghans. 
The  nineteenth  was  Callaghan  of  Cashel,  king  of  Munster,  cele- 
brated in  Irish  romance  for  his  warfare  with  the  Danes.  The 
twenty-third  was  Snedgus,  who  had  a  brother  named  Fogartach, 
from  whose  son  Finguini  sprang  the  Muinntir  Finguini,  or 
Finguini's  People.  The  twenty-eighth  was  Falbi  Flann,  who 
was  king  of  Munster  from  622  to  633,  from  whose  brother 


62        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

Finghin  sprang  the  sept  of  the  O'Sullivans.  The  thirty-second 
was  Angus,  from  one  son  of  whom  Eochaidh  [Yohy]  Finn  are 
descended  the  O'Keefes ;  while  from  another  son  Enna,  spring 
the  O'Dalys  of  Munster — he  was  the  first  king  of  Munster 
who  became  a  Christian,  and  he  was  slain  in  484.  The  thirty- 
fourth  was  Arc,  king  of  Munster,  from  whose  son  Cas,  spring 
the  following  septs  :  The  O'Donoghue  Mor — from  whom, 
branched  off  the  O'Donoghue  of  the  Glen — O'Mahony  Finn 
and  O'Mahony  Roe,  i.e.y  the  White  and  Red  O'Mahonys,  and 
O'Mahony  of  Ui  Floinn  Laei,  and  O'Mahony  of  Carbery,  also 
O'Mullane  *  and  O'Cronin ;  while  from  his  other  son,  "  Cairbre 
the  Pict,"  sprang  the  O'Moriarties,  and  from  Cairbre's  grand- 
son came  the  O'Garvans.  The  thirty-sixth  ancestor  was  Olild 
Flann  Beg,  king  of  Munster,  who  had  a  son  from  whom  are 
descended  the  sept  of  O'Donovan,  and  the  O'Coileains,  or 
Collinses.  And  a  grandson  from  whom  spring  the  O'Meehans, 
O'Hehirs,  and  the  Mac  Davids  of  Thomond.  The  thirty- 
seventh,  Fiachaidh,  was  well  known  in  Irish  romance  ;  the 
thirty-eighth  was  Eoghan,  or  Owen  Mor,  from  whom  all  the 
septs  of  the  Eoghanachts,  or  Eugenians  of  Munster  come,  who 
embrace  every  family  and  sept  hitherto  mentioned,  and  many 
more.  They  are  carefully  to  be  distinguished  from  the  Dal- 
cassians,  who  are  descended  from  Owen's  second  son  Cas.  It 
was  the  Dalcassians  who,  with  Brian  Boru  at  their  head,  pre- 
served Ireland  from  the  Danes  and  won  Clontarf.  For  many 
centuries  the  history  of  Munster  is  largely  composed  of  the 
struggles  between  these  two  septs  for  the  kingship.  The  thirty- 
ninth  is  the  celebrated  Oilioll  [Ulyul]  Olum,  king  of  Mun- 
ster, whose  wail  of  grief  over  his  son  Owen  is  a  stock  piece  in 
Irish  MSS.  He  is  a  son  of  the  great  Owen,  better  known  as 
Mogh  Nuadhat,  or  Owen  the  Splendid,  who  wrested  half  the 

1  The  great  Daniel  O'Connell's  mother  belonged  to  this  sept  of  the 
O'Mullanes,  and  the  so-called  typical  Hibernian  physiognomy  of  the 
Liberator  was  derived  from  her  people,  whom  he  nearly  resembled,  and 
not  from  the  O'Connells. 


TOPOGRAPHY  AND   GENEALOGY         63 

kingdom  from  Conn  of  the  Hundred  Battles,  so  that  to  this 
very  day  Connacht  and  Ulster  together  are  called  in  Irish 
Conn's  Half,  and  Munster  and  Leinster  Owen's  Half.  The 
forty-third  ancestor  is  Dergthini,  who  is  known  in  Irish  history 
as  one  of  the  three  heirs  of  the  royal  houses  in  Ireland,  whom 
I  have  mentioned  before  as  having  been  saved  from  massacre 
when  the  Free  Clans  or  Nobility  were  cut  to  pieces  by  the 
Unfree  or  Rent-paying  tribes  at  Moy  Cro — an  event  which  is 
nearly  contemporaneous  with  the  birth  of  Christ.  Hitherto 
there  have  been  nine  kings  of  Munster  in  this  line,  but  not  a 
single  king  of  Ireland,  but  the  forty-ninth  ancestor,  Duach 
Dalta  Degadh,  also  called  Duach  Donn,  attains  this  high 
honour,  and  takes  his  place  among  the  Reges  Hiberniae  about 
1 72  years  before  Christ,  according  to  the  "  Four  Masters."  After 
this  a  rather  bald  catalogue  of  thirty-six  more  ancestors  are 
reckoned,  no  fewer  than  twenty-four  being  counted  among  the 
kings  of  Ireland,  and  at  last,  at  the  eighty-sixth  ancestor  from 
the  Earl  of  Clancarthy,  the  genealogy  finds  its  long-delayed 
goal  in  Eber,  son  of  Milesius. 

It  will  be  seen  from  this  typical  pedigree  of  the  Mac  Carthys 
— any  other  great  family  would  have  answered  our  purpose  just 
as  well — how  families  spring  from  clans  and  clans  from  septs — to 
use  an  English  word — and  septs  from  a  common  stem  ;  and  how 
the  nearness  or  remoteness  of  some  common  ancestor  bound  a 
number  of  clans  in  nearer  or  remoter  alliance  to  one  another. 
Thus  all  septs  of  the  great  Eberian  stem  had  some  slight  and 
faint  tie  of  common  ancestry  connecting  them,  which  comes 
out  most  strongly  in  their  jealousy  of  the  Eremonian  or  northern 
stem,  but  was  not  sufficient  to  produce  a  political  alliance 
amongst  themselves.  Of  a  much  stronger  nature  was  the  tie 
which  bound  those  families  descended  from  Eoghan  Mor,  the 
thirty-eighth  ancestor  from  the  first  earl.  These  went  under  the 
name  of  the  Eoghanachts,  and  held  fairly  together,  always 
opposing  the  Dalcassians,  descended  from  Cas.  But  when  it 
came  to  the  adoption  of  a  surname,  as  it  did  in  the  eleventh 


64        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

century,  those  who  descended  from  the  ancestor  who  gave  them 
their  name,  were  bound  to  one  another  by  the  common  ties  or 
a  nearer  kinship  and  a  common  surname. 

It  will  be  seen  at  a  glance  from  the  above  pedigree,  how, 
taking  the  Mac  Carthys  as  a  stem,  and  starting  from  the  first 
earl,  the  Mac  Finneens  join  that  stem  at  the  eleventh  ancestor 
from  the  earl,  the  Mac  Auliffes  at  the  fifteenth,  the  O'Calla- 
ghans  at  the  eighteenth,  the  O'Sullivans  at  the  twenty-ninth, 
the  O'Keefes  at  the  thirty-second,  the  O'Dalys  x  of  Munster 
at  the  thirty-second,  the  O'Donoghues,  O'Mahonys, 
O'Mullanes,  O'Cronins,  O'Garvans,  and  Moriartys  at  the 
thirty-fourth,  the  O'Donovans,  Collinses,  O'Meehans, 
O'Hehirs,  and  Mac  Davids  at  the  thirty-sixth. 

Now  each  of  these  had  his  own  genealogy  equally  carefully 
kept  by  his  own  ancestral  bardic  historian.  If,  for  instance, 
the  Mac  Carthys  could  boast  of  nine  kings  of  Munster  amongst 
them,  the  O'Keefes  could  boast  of  ten  ;  and  an  O'Keefe 
reckoning  from  Donal  Og,  who  was  slain  at  the  battle  of 
Aughrim,  would  say  that  the  Mac  Carthys  joined  his  line  at 
the  thirty-sixth  ancestor  from  Donal. 

All  the  Gaels  of  Ireland  of  the  free  tribes  trace  back  their 
ancestry,  as  we  have  seen,  to  one  or  other  of  the  four  great 
stocks  of  Erimon,  Eber,  Ir,  and  Ith.  Of  these  the  ERE- 
MONIANS  were  by  far  the  greatest,  the  EBERIANS  coming  next. 
The  O'Neills,  O'Donnells,  O'Conors,  O'Cavanaghs,  and 
almost  all  the  leading  families  of  the  north,  the  west,  and  the 
east  were  Erimonian  ;  the  O'Briens,  Mac  Carthys,  and  most 
of  the  leading  tribes  of  the  south  were  Eberians.2  It  was 

1  Not  to  be  confounded  with  the  Siol  nDalaigh,  who  were  the  great 
northern  family  of  the  O'Donnells,  who  had  also  an  ancestor  called  Dalach, 
from  whom  they  derived,  not  their  surname,  but  their  race-patronymic. 

2  Strange  to  say  Daniel  O'Connell  was  not  an  Eberian  but  an  Erimonian. 
The  history  of  his  tribe  is  very  curious.     It  was  descended  from  the  cele- 
brated Ernaan,  or  Degadian  tribe  to  which  the  hero  Curigh  Mac  Daire  slain 
by  Cuchulain   belonged,    who  trace   their  genealogy   back  to   Aengus 
Tuirmeach,  High-king  of  Ireland  about  388  B.C.     These  tribes  were  of 
Erimonian  descent,  but  settled  in  the  south.    They  were  quite  conquered 


TOPOGRAPHY  AND   GENEALOGY         65 

nearly  always  a  member  of  one  or  the  other  of  these  two  stems 
who  held  the  high-kingship  of  Ireland,  but  so  much  more 
powerful  were  the  Eremonians  within  historical  times,  that  the 
Southern  Eberians,  although  well  able  to  maintain  themselves 
in  the  south,  yet  found  themselves  absolutely  unable  to  place 
more  than  one  or  two  r  high-kings  upon  the  throne  of  All- 
Ireland,  from  the  coming  of  Patrick,  until  the  great  Brian  Boru 
once  more  broke  the  spell  and  wrested  the  monarchy  from  the 
Erimonians.  The  Irians  gave  few  kings  to  Ireland,  and  the 
Ithians  still  less — only  three  or  four,  and  these  in  very  early, 
perhaps  mythic,  times. 

If  now  we  trace  the  O'Neill  pedigree  back  as  we  did  that  of 
the  Mac  Carthys,  we  find  the  great  Shane  O'Neill  who  fought 
Elizabeth,  traced  back  step  by  step  to  the  perfectly  historical 
character  Niall  of  the  Nine  Hostages,  son  of  Eochaidh 
Muigh-mheadhoin  [Mwee-va-on],  who  was  grandson  of 
Fiachaidh  Sreabhtine  [Sravtinna],  son  of  Cairbre  of  the  Liffey, 
son  of  the  great  Cormac  Mac  Art,  and  grandson  or  Conn  of  the 
Hundred  Battles,  all  of  whom  are  celebrated  in  history  and  end- 
less romance ;  and  thence  through  a  list  containing  in  all  forty- 
four  High-kings  of  Ireland  back  to  EREMON,  son  of  Milesius, 
brother  of  that  Eber  from  whom  the  Mac  Carthys  spring,  and 
from  whom  he  is  the  eighty-eighth  in  descent.  The  O'Donnells 
join  his  line  at  the  thirty-sixth  ancestor,  the  O'Gallaghers  at 
the  thirty-second,  the  O'Conor  Don  and  O'Conor  Roe  and  the 
O'Flaherty  at  the  thirty-seventh.  We  find  too,  on  examining 
these  pedigrees,  the  most  curious  inter-mixtures  and  crossing 
of  families.  Thus,  for  instance,  the  two  families  of  O'Crowley 


by  the  descendants  of  Oilioll  Olum — i.e.,  the  Eberians,  who  owned  nearly 
all  the  south — yet  they  continued  to  exist  in  the  extreme  west  of  Munster. 
The  O'Connells,  from  whom  came  Daniel  O'Connell,  the  O'Falveys  and 
the  O' Sheas  were  their  chief  families,  but  none  of  them  were  powerful. 

1  The  Munster  annals  of  Innisfallen  themselves  claim  only  five,  but  the 
claims  of  some  of  them  are  untenable.  Moore  will  not  admit  that  any 
Eberian  was  monarch  of  Ireland  from  the  coming  of  St.  Patrick  to  the 
"  usurpation  "  of  Brian  Boru. 

E 


66        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

in  Minister  spring  from  the  Mac  Dermot  Roe  of  Connacht, 
who,  with  the  Mac  Donogh,  sprang  from  Mac  Dermot  of 
Moylurg  in  Roscommon,  ancestor  of  the  prince  of  Coolavin  ; 
while  the  O'Gara,  former  lord  of  Coolavin  in  the  same  county, 
to  whom  the  "  Four  Masters "  dedicated  their  annals,  was  of 
southern  Eberian  stock. 

The  great  warriors  of  the  Red  Branch,  the  men  of  the 
original  kingdom  of  Uladh  [Ulla,  /.*.,  Ulster],  were  of  the 
third  great  stock,  the  IRIANS  or  race  of  Ir,1  but  they  are 
perhaps  better  known  as  the  Clanna  Rudhraighe  [Rury]  or 
Rudricians,  so  named  from  Rudhraighe,  a  great  monarch  of 
Ireland  who  lived  nearly  three  hundred  years  before  Christ,  or 
as  Ulidians  because  they  represented  the  ancient  province  of 
Uladh.  But  the  Three  Collas,  grandsons  of  Cairbre  of  the 
Liffey,  who  was  himself  great-grandson  of  Conn  of  the  Hundred 
Battles,  and  of  course  of  the  Eremonian  stock,  overthrew  the 
Irians  in  the  year  332,  and  burned  their  capital,  Emania.  The 
Irians  were  thus  driven  out  by  the  Eremonians,  and  forced  back 
into  the  present  counties  of  Down  and  Antrim,  where  they 
continued  to  maintain  their  independence.  So  bitterly,  how- 
ever, did  they  resent  the  treatment  they  had  received  at  the 
hands  of  the  Eremonians,  and  so  deeply  did  the  burning  of 
Emania  continue  to  rankle  in  their  hearts,  that  after  a  period  of 
nearly  900  years  they  are  said  to  have  stood  sullenly  aloof  from 
the  other  Irish,  and  to  have  refused  to  make  common  cause 
with  them  against  the  Normans  at  the  battle  of  Downpatrick 
in  1260,  where  the  prince  of  the  O'Neills  was  slain.2  So 
powerful,  on  the  other  hand,  did  the  idea  of  race-connection 
remain,  that  we  find  one  of  the  bards  so  late  as  the  sixteenth 

*  Their  greatest  families  were  in  later  times  the  Magennises,  now  Guin- 
nesses, O'Mores,  O'Farrells,  and  O'Connor  Kerrys,  with  their  correlatives. 

2  O'Donovan  says  that  Brian  O'Neill  was  not  assisted  by  any  of  the 
Ulidians  at  this  battle,  but  of  course  they  had  more  recent  wrongs  than  the 
burning  of  Emania  to  complain  of,  for  battles  between  them  and  the 
invading  Eremonian  tribes  continued  for  long  to  be  recorded  in  the 
annals.  See  p.  180,  "  Miscellany  of  the  Celtic  Society." 


TOPOGRAPHY  AND   GENEALOGY         67 

century  urging  a  political  combination  and  alliance  between 
the  descendants  of  the  Three  Collas  who  had  burned  E  mania 
over  twelve  hundred  years  before,  and  who  were  then  repre- 
sented by  the  Maguires  of  Fermanagh,  the  Mac  Mahons  of 
Oriel x  and  the  far-off  O'Kellys  of  Ui  Maine2  [Ee  maana]. 

As  for  the  fourth  great  stock,  the  ITHIANS,S  they  were 
gradually  pushed  aside  by  the  Eberians  of  the  south,  as  the 
Irians  had  been  by  the  Eremonians  of  the  north,  and  driven 
into  the  islands  and  coasts  of  West  Munster.  Yet  curiously 
enough  the  northern  Dukes  of  Argyle  and  the  Campbells  and 
MacAllans  of  Scotland  spring  from  them.  Their  chief  tribes 
in  Ireland  were  known  as  the  Corca  Laidhi  [Corka-lee]  ;  these 
were  the  pirate  O'Driscolls  and  their  correlatives,  but  they 
were  pushed  so  hard  by  the  Mac  Carthys,  O'Mahonys,  and 
other  Eberians,  that  in  the  year  1615  their  territory  was  con- 
fined to  a  few  parishes,  and  twenty  years  later  even  these  are 
found  paying  tribute  to  the  Mac  Carthy  Reagh.  There  is  one 
very  remarkable  peculiarity  about  their  genealogies,  which  is, 
that,  though  they  trace  themselves  with  great  apparent,  and  no 
doubt  real,  accuracy  back  to  Mac  Con,  monarch  of  Ireland  and 
contemporary  with  Oilioll  Olum  in  the  end  of  the  second 
century,  yet  from  that  point  back  to  Milesius  a  great  number 
of  generations  (some  twenty  or  so)  are  missing,  and  no  genea- 
logist, so  far  as  I  know,  in  any  of  the  books  of  pedigrees  which 
I  have  consulted,  has  attempted  to  supply  them  by  rilling  them 
up  with  a  barren  list  of  names,  as  has  been  done  in  the  other 
three  stems.4 

1  I.e.  Monaghan.  2  Parts  of  the  counties  Galway  and  Roscommon. 

3  In  later  times  their  chief  families  were  the  O'Driscolls,  the  Clancys 
[Mac  Fhlanchadhas]  of  the  county  Leitrim,  the  Mac  Allans  of  Scotland,  the 
Coffeys  and  the  O'Learys  of  Roscarberry,  etc.  They  were  commonly 
called  the  Clanna  Breogain,  or  Irish  Brigantes,  from  Breogan,  father  of  Ith. 

*  From  Mac  Con,  son  of  Maicniad,  king  of  Ireland,  to  the  end  of  the 
second  century,  Mac  Firbis's  great  book  of  genealogies  only  reckons  twelve 
generations  of  Breogan,  but  in  the  smaller  handwriting  at  the  foot  of  the 
page  twenty-two  generations  are  counted  up.  See  under  the  heading,  "  Do 
genealach  Dairfhine  agus  shil  Luighdheach  mic  lotha  Mac  Breoghain,"  at 
p.  670  of  O'Curry's  MS.  transcript.  Michael  O'Clery's  great  book  of 


68        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

Let  us  now  consider  how  far  these  genealogies  tend  to 
establish  the  authenticity  of  our  early  history,  saga,  and  litera- 
ture. The  first  plain  and  obvious  objection  to  them  is  this — 
that  genealogies  which  trace  themselves  back  to  Adam  must 
be  untrue  inventions. 

We  grant  it. 

But  all  Gaelic  genealogies  meet,  as  we  have  shown  in 
Milesius  or  his  uncle,  Ith.  Strike  off  all  that  long  tale  or 
pre-Milesian  names  connecting  him  with  Adam,  and  count 
them  as  a  late  excrescence — a  mixture  of  pagan  myth  and 
Christian  invention  added  to  the  rest  for  show.  This  leaves 
us  only  the  four  stems  to  deal  with. 

The  next  objection  is  that  pedigrees  which  trace  themselves 
back  to  the  landing  of  the  Milesians — a  date  in  the  computation 
of  which  Irish  annalists  themselves  differ  by  a  few  hundred 
years — must  also  be  untrue,  especially  as  their  own  annalist, 
Tighearnach,  has  expressly  said  that  all  their  history  prior 
to  about  300  B.C.  is  uncertain. 

We  grant  this  also. 

What,  then,  remains  ? 

This  remains — namely  the  points  in  each  of  the  four  great 
race  stems,  in  which  all  or  the  most  of  the  leading  tribes  and 
families  belonging  to  that  stem  converge,  and,  as  we  have  seen, 
all  of  these  with  a  few  exceptions  take  place  within  reach  of 
the  historical  period.  In  the  lines  of  EBER  and  of  ITH,  this 
point  is  at  the  close  of  the  second  century  ;  in  the  race  of  IR 
it  is  about  the  time  of  Christ's  birth,1  and  in  the  fourth  and 

genealogies  counts  twenty-three  generations  from  Maic  Niad  to  Ith,  both 
included,  see  p.  223  of  O'Clery's  MS.  Keating's  pedigree,  as  given  in 
the  body  of  his  history,  gives  twenty-three  generations  also,  but  only 
seventeen  in  the  special  genealogy  attached  to  it.  There  are  no  such 
curious  discrepancies  in  the  other  three  stems.  I  can  only  account  for  it 
by  the  impoverished  and  oppressed  condition  of  the  Ithians,  which  in  later 
times  may  have  made  them  lose  their  records . 

1  The  chief  exceptions  being,  as  we  have  seen,  the  Scottish  Dal  Riada 
and  the  Leinster  O'Cavanaghs,  who  do  not  join  the  Eremonian  line,  one 
till  the  fourth  and  the  other  till  the  seventh  century  before  Christ. 


TOPOGRAPHY  AND   GENEALOGY         69 

perhaps  most  important  stem,  that  of  EREMON,  the  two  main 
points  of  convergence  are  in  the  historical  Niall  of  the  Nine 
Hostages,  who  came  to  the  throne  in  356,  and  in  Cairbr6  of 
the  Liffey,  who  became  High-king  in  267. x 

1  Conall  Cearnach,  from  whom,  along  with  his  friend  Fergus  mac  Roigh 
or  Roy,  the  Irians  claim  descent,  was  first  cousin  of  Cuchulain,  and 
Tighearnach  records  Cuchulain's  death  as  occurring  in  the  second  year 
after  the  birth  of  Christ,  the  "  Chronicon  Scotorum  "  having  this  curious 
entry  at  the  year  432,  "  a  morte  Concculaind  herois  usque  ad  hunc  annum 
431,  a  morte  Concupair  [Conor]  mic  Nessa  412  anni  sunt."  It  is  worth 
noting  that  none  of  the  Gaelic  families  trace  their  pedigree,  so  far  as  I 
know,  to  either  Cuchulain  himself,  or  to  his  over-lord,  King  Conor  mac 
Nessa.  Cuchulain  was  himself  not  of  Ithian  but  of  Eremonian  blood, 
although  so  closely  connected  with  Emania,  the  Red  Branch,  and  the 
Clanna  Rury.  If  Irish  pedigrees  had  been  like  modern  ones  for  sale,  or 
could  in  any  way  have  been  tampered  with,  every  one  would  have  pre- 
ferred Cuchulain  for  an  ancestor.  That  no  one  has  got  him  is  a  strong 
presumption  in  favour  of  the  genuineness  of  Irish  genealogies. 


CHAPTER  VH 

DOCUMENTARY    EVIDENCE 

WE  must  now  consider  whether  Irish  genealogies  were  really 
traced  or  not  to  those  points  which  I  have  mentioned.  Is 
there  any  documentary  evidence  in  support  of  such  an  asser- 
tion ? 

There  is  certainly  some  such  evidence,  and  we  shall  proceed 
to  examine  it. 

In  the  Leabhar  na  h-Uidhre  [Lowar  na  Heera],  or  Book  of 
the  Dun  Cow,  the  existing  manuscript  of  which  was  trans- 
cribed about  the  year  1 100,  in  the  Book  of  Leinster,  transcribed 
about  fifty  years  later,  in  the  Book  of  Ballymote  and  in  the 
Book  of  Lecan,  frequent  reference  is  made  to  an  ancient  book 
now  lost  called  the  Cin  or  Codex  of  Drom-sneachta.  This 
book,  or  a  copy  of  it,  existed  down  to  the  beginning  of  the 
seventeenth  century,  for  Keating  quotes  from  it  in  his  history, 
and  remarks  at  the  same  time,  "  and  it  was  before  the  coming 
of  Patrick  to  Ireland  the  author  of  that  book  existed."  r  This 
evidence  of  Keating  might  be  brushed  aside  as  an  exaggeration 
did  it  stand  alone,  but  it  does  not,  for  in  a  partially  effaced 
memorandum  in  the  Book  of  Leinster,  transcribed  from  older 
books  about  the  year  1150,  we  read:  "  [Ernin,  son  of] 

1  See  Haliday's  "  Keating,"  p.  215. 
70 


DOCUMENTARY  EVIDENCE  71 

Duach,1  son  of  the  king  of  Connacht,  an  ollav  and  a 
prophet  and  a  professor  in  history  and  a  professor  in  wisdom  ; 
it  was  he  that  collected  the  genealogies  and  histories  of  the 
men  of  Erin  into  one,  and  that  is  the  Cin  Droma-sneachta." 
Now  there  were  only  two  Duachs  according  to  our  annals, 
one  of  these  was  great-grandson  of  Niall  of  the  Nine  Hostages, 
and  of  course  a  pagan,  who  died  in  379  ;  the  other,  who  was 
an  ancestor  of  the  O 'Flaherties,  died  one  hundred  and  twenty 
years  later.  It  was  Duach  the  pagan,  whose  second  son  was 
Ernin  ;  the  other  had  only  one  son,  whose  name  was  Senach. 
If  O'Curry  has  read  the  half-effaced  word  correctly,  then  the 
book  may  have  been,  as  Keating  says  it  was,  written  before 
St.  Patrick's  coming,  and  it  contained,  as  the  various  references 
to  it  show,  a  repertoire  of  genealogies  collected  by  the  son  of  a 
man  who  died  in  379  ;  this  man,  too,  being  great-grandson  of 
that  Niall  of  the  Nine  Hostages  in  whose  son  so  large  a 
number  of  the  Eremonian  genealogies  converge.2 

There  are  many  considerations  which  lead  me  to  believe 
that  Irish  genealogical  books  were  kept  from  the  earliest  intro- 
duction of  the  art  of  writing,  and  kept  with  greater  accuracy, 
perhaps,  than  any  other  records  of  the  past  whatsoever.  The 
chiefest  of  these  is  the  well-known  fact  that,  under  the  tribal 
system,  no  one  possessed  lawfully  any  portion  of  the  soil  in- 
habited by  his  tribe  if  he  were  not  of  the  same  race  with  his 
chief.  Consequently  even  those  of  lowest  rank  in  the  tribe 
traced  and  recorded  their  pedigree  with  as  much  care  as  did 
the  highest,  for  "  it  was  from  his  own  genealogy  each  man  of 
the  tribe,  poor  as  well  as  rich,  held  the  charter  of  his  civil 
state,  his  right  of  property  in  the  cantred  in  which  he  was 

1  See  p.  15  of  O'Curry's  MS.    Materials.     There  was  some  doubt  in 
his  mind  about  the  words  in  brackets,  but  as  the  sheets  of  his  book  were 
passing  through  the  press  he  took  out  the  MS.  for  another  look  on  a  par- 
ticularly bright  day,  the  result  of  which  left  him  no  doubt  that  he  had  read 
the  name  correctly. 

2  For 'a  typical  citation  of  this  book  see  p.  28  of  O'Donovan's  "  Genealogy 
of  the  Corca  Laidh,"  in  the  "  Miscellany  of  the  Celtic  Society." 


72        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

born."  *  All  these  genealogies  were  entered  in  the  local  books 
of  each  tribe  and  were  preserved  in  the  verses  of  the  hereditary 
poets.  There  was  no  incentive  to  action  among  the  early 
Irish  so  stimulative  as  a  remembrance  of  their  pedigree.  It 
was  the  same  among  the  Welsh,  and  probably  among  all  tribes 
of  Celtic  blood.  We  find  the  witty  but  unscrupulous  Giraldus, 
in  the  twelfth  century,  saying  of  his  Welsh  countrymen  that 
every  one  of  them,  even  of  the  common  people,  observes  the 
genealogy  of  his  race,  and  not  only  knows  by  heart  his  grand- 
fathers and  great-grandfathers,  but  knows  all  his  ancestors 
up  to  the  sixth  or  seventh  generation,2  or  even  still  further, 
and  promptly  repeats  his  genealogy  as  Rhys,  son  of  Griffith, 
son  of  Rhys,  son  of  Teudor,  etc.3 

The  poet,  Cuan  O'Lochain,  who  died  in  the  year  1024, 
gives  a  long  account  of  the  Saltair  of  Tara  now  lost,  the  com- 
pilation of  which  he  ascribes  to  Cormac  mac  Art,  who  came 
to  the  throne  in  227,4  and  in  which  he  says  the  synchronisms 
and  chronology  of  all  the  kings  were  written.  The  Book  of 
Ballymote  too  quotes  from  an  ancient  book,  now  lost,  called 
the  Book  of  the  Uachongbhail,  to  the  effect  that  "  the  syn- 
chronisms and  genealogies  and  succession  of  their  kings  and 
monarchs,  their  battles,  their  contests,  and  their  antiquities 

1  See  "  Celtic  Miscellany,"  p.  144,  O'Donovan's  tract  on  Corca  Laidb. 

2  "  Generositatem  vero  et  generis  nobilitatem  prae  rebus  omnibus  magis 
appetunt.    Unde  et  generosa  conjugia  plus  longe  capiunt  quam  sumptuosa 
vel  opima.     Genealogiam  quoque  generis   sui   etiam   de  populo  quilibet 
observat,  et  .non  solum,  avos,  atavos,  sed  usque  ad  sextam  vel  septimam  et 
ultra  procul  generationem,  memoriter  et  prompte  genus  enarrat  in  hunc 
modum  Resus  filius  Griffini  filii  Resi  filii  Theodori,  filii  Aeneae,  filii  Hoeli 
filii  Cadelli  filii  Roderici  magni  et  sic  deinceps. 

"Genus  itaque super omnia  diligunt,  et  darana  sanguinis  atque  dedecoris 
ulciscuntur.  Vindicis  enim  animi  sunt  et  irae  cruentse  nee  solum  novas 
et  recentes  injurias  verum  etiam  veteres  et  antiquas  velut  instanter  vindicare 
parati  "  ("  Cambrise  Descriptio,"  Cap.  XVII.). 

3  O'Donovan  says — I  forget  where — that  he  had  tested  in  every  part  of 
Ireland  how  far  the  popular  memory  could  carry  back  its  ancestors,  and 
found  that  it  did  not  reach  beyond  the  seventh  generation. 

*  According  to  the  "  Four  Masters  "  ;  in  213,  according  to  Keating. 


DOCUMENTARY  EVIDENCE  73 

from  the  world's  beginning  down  to  that  time  were  written  in 
it,  and  this  is  the  Saltair  of  Tara,  which  is  the  origin  and 
fountain  of  the  historians  of  Erin  from  that  period  down  to 
this  time."  This  may  not  be  convincing  proof  that  Cormac 
mac  Art  wrote  the  Saltair,  but  it  is  convincing  proof  that 
what  were  counted  as  the  very  earliest  books  were  filled  with 
genealogies. 

The  subject  of  tribal  genealogy  upon  which  the  whole 
social  fabric  depended  was  far  too  important  to  be  left  without 
a  check  in  the  hands  of  tribal  historians,  however  well- 
iritentioned.  And  this  check  was  afforded  by  the  great 
convention  or  Feis,  which  took  place  triennially  at  Tara,1 
whither  the  historians  had  to  bring  their  books  that  under 
the  scrutiny  of  the  jealous  eyes  of  rivals  they  might  be  purged 
of  whatever  could  not  be  substantiated,  "  and  neither  law  nor 
usage  nor  historic  record  was  ever  held  as  genuine  until  it  had 
received  such  approval,  and  nothing  that  disagreed  with  the 
Roll  of  Tara  could  be  respected  as  truth."2 

"  It  was,"  says  Duald  Mac  FirbisS — himself  the  author  of 
probably  the  greatest  book  of  genealogies  ever  written,  speak- 
ing about  the  chief  tribal  historians  of  Ireland,  "  obligatory  on 
every  one  of  them  who  followed  it  to  purify  the  profession  "  ; 
and  he  adds  very  significantly,  "  Along  with  these  [historians] 
the  judges  of  Banba  [Ireland]  used  to  be  in  like  manner  pre- 
serving the  history,  for  a  man  could  not  be  a  judge  without  being 
a  historian^  and  he  is  not  a  historian  who  is  not  a  judge  in  the 
BRETHADH  NiMHEDH,4  that  is  the  last  book  in  the  study  of 
the  Shanachies  and  of  the  judges  themselves." 

1  But  see  O'Donovan's  introduction  to  "  The  Book  of  Rights,"  where  he 
adduces  some  reasons  for  believing  that  it  may  have  been  a  septennial  not 
a  triennial  convocation. 

2  See  Keating's  History  under  the  reign  of  Tuathal  Teachtmhar. 

3  In  the  seventeenth  century.    His  book  on  genealogies  would,  O' Curry 
computed,  fill  1,300  pages  of  the  size  of  O'Donovan's  "  Four  Masters." 

4  This  was  a  very  ancient  law  book,  which  is  quoted  at  least  a  dozen 
times  in  Cormac's  Glossary,  made  in  the  ninth  or  tenth  century. 


74        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

The  poets  and  historians  "  were  obliged  to  be  free  from 
theft,  and  killing,  and  satirising,  and  adultery,  and  everything 
that  would  be  a  reproach  to  their  learning."  Mac  Firbis,  who 
was  the  last  working  historian  of  a  great  professional  family, 
puts  the  matter  nobly  and  well. 

"  Any  Shanachie,"  he  says,  "  whether  an  ollav  or  the  next  in  rank, 
or  belonging  to  the  order  at  all,  who  did  not  preserve  these  rules, 
lost  half  his  income  and  his  dignity  according  to  law,  and  was 
subject  to  heavy  penalties  besides,  so  that  it  is  not  to  be  supposed 
that  there  is  in  the  world  a  person  who  would  not  prefer  to  tell  the 
truth,  if  he  had  no  other  reason  than  the  fear  of  God  and  the  loss  of 
his  dignity  and  his  income  :  and  it  is  not  becoming  to  charge 
partiality  upon  these  elected  historians  [of  the  nation].  However,  if 
unworthy  people  did  write  falsehood,  and  attributed  it  to  a  historian, 
it  might  become  a  reproach  to  the  order  of  historians  if  they  were 
not  on  their  guard,  and  did  not  look  to  see  whether  it  was  out  of 
their  prime  books  of  authority  that  those  writers  obtained  their 
knowledge.  And  that  is  what  should  be  done  by  every  one,  both  by 
the  lay  scholar  and  the  professional  historian — everything  of  which 
they  have  a  suspicion,  to  look  for  it,  and  if  they  do  not  find  it  con- 
firmed in  good  books,  to  note  down  its  doubtfulness,1  along  with  it, 
as  I  myself  do  to  certain  races  hereafter  in  this  book,  and  it  is  thus 
that  the  historians  are  freed  from  the  errors  of  others,  should  these 
errors  be  attributed  to  them,  which  God  forbid." 

I  consider  it  next  to  impossible  for  any  Gaelic  pedigree  to 
have  been  materially  tampered  with  from  the  introduction  of 
the  art  of  writing,  because  tribal  jealousies  alone  would  have 
prevented  it,  and  because  each  stem  of  the  four  races  was 
connected  at  some  point  with  every  other  stem,  the  whole 
clan  system  being  inextricably  intertwined,  and  it  was  neces- 
sary for  all  the  various  tribal  genealogies  to  agree,  in  order  that 
each  branch,  sub-branch,  and  family  might  fit,  each  in  its  own 
place. 

I  have  little  doubt  that  the  genealogy  of  O'Neill,  for 
instance,  which  traces  him  back  to  the  father  of  Niall  of  the 

1  Thus  quaintly  expressed  in  the  original,  for  which  see  O'Curry's 
MS.  Materials,  p.  576  :  "  muna  ffaghuid  dearbhtha  iar  ndeghleabhraibh 
e,  a  chuntabhairt  fen  do  chur  re  a  chois." 


DOCUMENTARY  EVIDENCE  75 

Nine  Hostages  who  came  to  the  throne  in  356  is  substantially 
correct.  Niall,  it  must  be  remembered,  was  father  of  Lao- 
ghaire  [Leary],  who  was  king  when  St.  Patrick  arrived,  by 
which  time,  if  not  before,  the  art  of  writing  was  known  in 
Ireland.  A  fortiori^  then,  we  may  trust  the  pedigrees  of  the 
O'Donnells  and  the  rest  who  join  that  stem  a  little  later  on. 
If  this  be  acknowledged  we  may  make  a  cautious  step  or  two 
backwards.  No  one,  so  far  as  I  know,  has  much  hesitation  in 
acknowledging  the  historic  character  of  that  King  Laoghaire 
whom  St.  Patrick  confronted,  nor  of  his  father  Niall  of  the 
Nine  Hostages.  But  if  we  go  so  far,  it  wants  very  little  to 
bring  us  in  among  the  Fenians  themselves,  and  the  scenes  con- 
nected with  them  and  with  Conn  of  the  Hundred  Battles  ;  for 
Niall's  great-grandfather  was  that  Fiachaidh  who  was  slain 
by  the  Three  Collas — those  who  burnt  Emania  and  destroyed 
the  Red  Branch — and  his  father  is  Cairbre  of  the  Liffey,  who 
overthrew  the  Fenians,  and  his  father  again  is  the  great  Cormac 
son  of  Art,  son  of  Conn  of  the  Hundred  Battles  who  divided 
the  kingdom  with  Owen  M6r.  But  it  is  from  the  three 
grandsons  of  this  Owen  M6r  the  Eberians  come,  and  from 
their  half-brother  come  the  Ithians,  so  that  up  to  this  point 
I  think  Irish  genealogies  may  be  in  the  main  accepted.  Even 
the  O'Kavanaghs  and  their  other  correlations,  who  do  not  join 
the  stem  of  Eremon  till  between  500  or  600  years  before 
Christ,  yet  pass  through  Enna  Cennsalach,  king  of  Leinster, 
a  perfectly  historical  character  mentioned  several  times  in  the 
Book  of  Armagh,1  who  slew  the  father  of  Niall  of  the  Nine 
Hostages ;  and  I  believe  that,  however  we  may  account  for  the 
strange  fact  that  these  septs  join  the  Eremonian  stem  so  many 
hundreds  of  years  before  the  O'Neills  and  the  others,  that  up 
to  this  point  their  genealogy  too  may  be  trusted. 

1  See  pp.  102,  113  of  Father  Hogan's  "  Documenta  de  S.  Patricio  ex 
Libro  Armachano,"  where  he  is  called  Endae.  He  persecuted  Cuthbad's 
three  sons,  "  fosocart  endae  cennsalach  fubithin  creitme  riacach,"  but 
Patrick  is  said  to  have  baptized  his  son,  "Luid  iarsuidiu  cucrimthan 
maccnendi  ceinnselich  et  ipse  creditit." 


;6        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

If  this  is  the  case,  and  if  it  is  true  that  every  Gael  belonging 
to  the  Free  Clans  of  Ireland  could  trace  his  pedigree  with 
accuracy  back  to  the  fourth,  third,  or  even  second  century,  it 
affords  a  strong  support  to  Irish  history,  and  in  my  opinion 
considerably  heightens  the  credibility  of  our  early  annals,  and 
renders  the  probability  that  Finn  mac  Cool  and  the  Red 
Branch  heroes  were  real  flesh  and  blood,  enormously  greater 
than  before.  It  will  also  put  us  on  our  guard  against  quite 
accepting  such  sweeping  generalisations  as  those  of  Skene, 
when  he  says  that  the  entire  legendary  history  of  Ireland 
prior  to  the  establishment  of  Christianity  in  the  fifth  century 
partakes  largely  of  a  purely  artificial  character.  We  must  not 
forget  that  while  no  Irish  genealogy  is  traced  to  the  De  Danann 
tribes,  who  were  undoubtedly  gods,  yet  the  ancestor  of  the 
Dalcassians — Cormac  Cas,  Oilioll  Olum's  son — is  said  to  have 
married  Ossian's  daughter. 


CHAPTER   VIII 

m 
CONFUSION    BETWEEN    GODS    AND    MEN 

OF  that  part  of  every  Irish  pedigree  which  runs  back  from  the 
first  century  to  Milesius  nothing  can  be  laid  down  with 
certainty,  nor  indeed  can  there  be  any  absolute  certainty  in 
affirming  that  Irish  pedigrees  from  the  eleventh  to  the  third 
century  are  reliable — we  have  only  an  amount  of  cumulative 
evidence  from  which  we  may  draw  such  a  deduction  with 
considerable  confidence.  The  mere  fact  that  these  pedigrees 
are  traced  back  a  thousand  years  further  through  Irish  kings 
and  heroes,  and  end  in  a  son  of  Milesius,  need  not  in  the 
least  affect — as  in  popular  estimation  it  too  often  does — the 
credibility  of  the  last  seventeen  hundred  years,  which  stands 
upon  its  own  merits. 

On  the  contrary,  such  a  continuation  is  just  what  we  should 
expect.  In  the  Irish  genealogies  the  sons  of  Milesius  occupy 
the  place  that  in  other  early  genealogies  is  held  by  the  gods. 
And  the  sons  of  Milesius  were  possibly  the  tutelary  gods  of 
the  Gael.  We  have  seen  how  one  of  them  was  so,  at  least 
in  folk  belief,  and  was  addressed  in  semi -seriousness  as  still 
living  and  reigning  even  in  the  last  century. 

All  the  Germanic  races  looked  upon  themselves  as  descended 
from  gods.  The  Saxon,  Anglian,  Danish,  Norwegian,  and 

77 


78        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

Swedish  kings  were  traced  back  either  to  Woden  or  to  some 
of  his  companions  or  sons.1  It  was  the  same  with  the  Greeks, 
to  whom  the  Celts  bear  so  close  a  similitude.  Their  Hera- 
kleids,  Asklepiads,  ./Eakids,  Neleids,  and  Daedalids,  are  a  close 
counterpart  to  our  Eremonians,  Eberians,  Ithians,  and  Irians, 
and  in  each  case  all  the  importance  was  attached  to  the 
primitive  eponymous  hero  or  god  from  whom  they  sprang. 
Without  him  the  whole  pedigree  became  uninteresting,  un- 
finished, headless.  These  beliefs  exercised  full  power  even 
upon  the  ablest  and  most  cultured  Greeks.  Aristotle  and 
Hippocrates,  for  instance,  considered  themselves  descended  from 
Asklepius,  Thucidydes  from  ./Eakus,  and  Socrates  from 
Daedalus  ;  just  as  O'Neill  and  O'Donnell  did  from  Eremon, 
O'Brien  from  Eber,  and  Magennis  from  Ir.  It  was  to  the 
divine  or  heroic  fountain  heads  of  the  race,  not  so  much  as  to 
the  long  and  mostly  barren  list  of  names  which  led  up  to  it, 
that  the  real  importance  was  attached.  It  is  not  in  Ireland 
alone  that  we  see  mythology  condensing  into  a  dated 
genealogy.  The  same  thing  has  happened  in  Persian  history, 
and  the  history  of  Denmark  by  Saxo  Grammaticus  affords 
many  such  instances.  In  Greece  the  Neleid  family  of  Pylus 
traced  their  origin  to  Neptune,  the  Lacedaemonian  kings  traced 
theirs  to  Cadmus  and  Danaiis,  and  Hekataeus  of  Miletus  was 
the  fifteenth  descendant  of  a  god. 

Again  we  meet  with  in  Teutonic  and  Hellenic  mythology 
the  same  difficulty  that  meets  us  in  our  own — that  of  distin- 
guishing gods  from  heroes  and  heroes  from  men.  The  legends 
of  the  Dagda  and  of  Angus  of  the  Boyne  and  the  Tuatha 
De  Danann,  of  Tighearnmas  and  the  Fomorians,  of  Lugh  the 
Long-handed  and  the  children  of  Tuireann — all  evidently 
mythologic — were  treated  in  the  same  manner,  recited  by  the 
same  tongues,  and  regarded  with  the  same  unwavering  belief, 
as  the  history  of  Conor  mac  Nessa  and  Deirdre,  of  Cuchulain 

1  These  genealogies  were  in  later  times,  like  the  Irish  ones,  extended  to 
N6ah. 


CONFUSION  BETWEEN  GODS  AND  MEN     79 

and  Meve,  or  that  of  Conn  of  the  Hundred  Battles,  Owen 
Mor,  Finn  mac  Cool,  and  the  Fenians.  The  early  Greek, 
in  the  same  way,  treated  the  stories  of  Apollo  and  Artemis,  of 
Ares  and  Aphrodite,  just  as  he  did  those  of  Diomede  and 
Helen,  Meleager  and  Althasa,  Achilles,  or  the  voyage  of  the 
Argo.  All  were  in  a  primitive  and  uncritical  age  received 
with  the  same  unsuspicious  credulity,  and  there  was  no  hard- 
and-fast  line  drawn  between  gods  and  men.  Just  as  the  M6r- 
rfgan,  the  war-goddess,  has  her  eye  dashed  out  by  Cuchulain, 
so  do  we  find  in  Homer  gods  wounded  by  heroes.  Thus,  too, 
Apollo  is  condemned  to  serve  Admetus,  and  Hercules  is  sold 
as  a  slave  to  Omphale.  Herodotus  himself  confesses  that  he 
is  unable  to  determine  whether  a  certain  Thracian  god 
Zalmoxis,  was  a  god  or  a  man,1  and  he  finds  the  same  difficulty 
regarding  Dionysus  and  Pan  ;  while  Plutarch  refuses  to  deter- 
mine whether  Janus  was  a  god  or  a  king ; 2  and  Herakleitus 
the  philosopher,  confronted  by  the  same  difficulty,  made  the 
admirable  mot  that  men  were  "  mortal  gods,"  gods  were  "  im- 
mortal men."  3 

In  our  literature,  although  the  fact  does  not  always  appear 
distinctly,  the  Dagda,  Angus  Og,  Lugh  the  Long-handed, 
Ogma,  and  their  fellows  are  the  equivalents  of  the  immortal 
gods,  while  certainly  Cuchulain  and  Conor  and  probably 
Curigh  Mac  Daire,  Conall  Cearnach,  and  the  other  famous 
Red  Branch  chiefs,  whatever  they  may  have  been  in  reality, 
are  the  equivalent  of  the  Homeric  heroes,  that  is  to  say, 
believed  to  have  been  epigoni  of  the  gods,  and  therefore  greater 


1  Herod,  iv.  94-96.  2  Numa,  ch.  xix. 

3  "  9eot  OvijToi,"  "  avOpwTToi  aOdvaroi."  It  is  most  curious  to  find  this  so 
academic  question  dragged  into  the  hard  light  of  day  and  subjected  to  the 
scrutiny  of  so  prosaic  a  person  as  the  Roman  tax-collector.  Under  the 
Roman  Empire  all  lands  in  Greece  belonging  to  the  immortal  gods  were 
exempted  from  tribute,  and  the  Roman  tax-collector  refused  to  recognise 
as  immortal  gods  any  deities  who  had  once  been  men.  The  confusion 
arising  from  such  questions  offered  an  admirable  target  to  Lucian  for  his 
keenest  shafts  of  ridicule. 


8o        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

than  ordinary  human  beings  ;  while  just  as  in  Greek  story 
there  are  the  cycles  of  the  war  round  Thebes,  the  voyage  of 
the  drgOy  the  fate  of  CEdipus,  etc.,  so  we  have  in  Irish 
numerous  smaller  groups  of  epic  stories — now  unfortunately 
mostly  lost  or  preserved  in  digests — which,  leaving  out  the 
Cuchulain  and  Fenian  cycles,  centre  round  such  minor  cha- 
racters as  Macha,  who  founded  Emania,  Leary  Lore,  Labhraidh 
[Lowry]  the  Mariner,  and  others. 

That  the  Irish  gods  die  in  both  saga  and  annals  like  so  many 
human  beings,  in  no  wise  militates  against  the  supposition  of 
their  godhead.  Even  the  Greek  did  not  always  consider  his  gods 
as  eternal.  A  study  of  comparative  mythology  teaches  that  gods 
are  in  their  original  essence  magnified  men,  and  subject  to  all 
men's  changes  and  chances.  They  are  begotten  and  born 
like  men.  They  eat,  sleep,  feel  sickness,  sorrow,  pain,  like 
men.  "Like  men,"  says  Grimm,  "they  speak  a  language, 
feel  passions,  transact  affairs,  are  clothed  and  armed,  possess 
dwellings  and  utensils."  Being  man-like  in  these  things,  they 
are  also  man-like  in  their  deaths.  They  are  only  on  a  greater 
scale  than  we.  "  This  appears  to  me,"  says  Grimm,1  "  a 
fundamental  feature  in  the  faith  of  the  heathen,  that  they 
allowed  to  their  gods  not  an  unlimited  and  unconditional 
duration,  but  only  a  term  of  life  far  exceeding  that  of  man." 
As  their  shape  is  like  the  shape  of  man  only  vaster,  so  are 
their  lives  like  the  lives  of  men  only  indefinitely  longer.  "With 
our  ancestors  [the  Teutons],"  said  Grimm,  "the  thought  of 
the  gods  being  immortal  retires  into  the  background.  The 
Edda  never  calls  them  *  eylifir '  or  c  odauSligir,'  and  their 
death  is  spoken  of  without  disguise."  So  is  it  with  us  also. 
The  Dagda  dies,  slain  in  the  battle  of  North  Moytura  ;  the 
three  "  gods  of  the  De  Danann  "  die  at  the  instigation  or 
Lugh ;  and  the  great  Lugh  himself,  from  whom  Lugdunum, 
now  Lyons,  takes  its  name,  and  to  whom  early  Celtic 
inscriptions  are  found,  shares  the  same  fate.  Manannan  is 
1  "  Deutsche  Mythologie,"  article  on  the  Condition  of  the  Gods. 


CONFUSION  BETWEEN  GODS  AND  MEN     Si 

slain,  so  is  Ogma,  and  so  are  many  more.  And  yet  though 
recorded  as  slain  they  do  not  wholly  disappear.  Manannan 
came  back  to  Bran  riding  in  his  chariot  across  the  Ocean,1 
and  Lugh  makes  his  frequent  appearances  amongst  the 
living. 

1  "  Voyage  of  Bran  mac  Febail,"  Nutt  and  Kuno  Meyer,  vol.  i.  p.  16. 


CHAPTER    IX 

DRUIDISM 

ALTHOUGH  Irish  literature  is  full  of  allusions  to  the  druids  it 
is  extremely  difficult  to  know  with  any  exactness  what  they 
were.  They  are  mentioned  from  the  earliest  times.  The  pre- 
Milesian  races,  the  Nemedians  and  Fomorians,  had  their 
druids,  who  worked  mutual  spells  against  each  other.  The 
Tuatha  De  Danann  had  innumerable  druids  amongst  them, 
who  used  magic.  The  invading  Milesians  had  three  druids 
with  them  in  their  ships,  Amergin  the  poet  and  two  others. 
In  fact,  druids  are  mentioned  in  connection  with  all  early 
Irish  fiction  and  history,  from  the  first  colonising  of  Ireland 
down  to  the  time  of  the  saints.  It  seems  very  doubtful, 
however,  whether  there  existed  in  Ireland  as  definitely  estab- 
lished an  order  of  druids  as  in  Britain  and  on  the  Continent.1 

1  Caesar's  words  are  worth  repeating.  He  says  that  there  were  two 
sorts  of  men  in  Gaul  both  numerous  and  honoured — the  knights  and  the 
Druids,  "  equites  et  druides,"  because  the  people  counted  for  nothing  and 
took  the  initiative  in  nothing.  As  for  the  Druids,  he  says  :  "  Rebus  divinis 
intersunt,  sacrificia  publica  et  privata  procurant,  religiones  interpretantur. 
.  .  .  nam  fere  de  omnibus  controversiis  publicis  privatisque  constituunt, 
et  si  quod  est  admissum  facinus,  si  ccedes  facta,  si  de  hereditate,  de  finibus 
controversia  est  iidem  decernunt  prsemia,  pcenasque  constituunt."  All 
this  seems  very  like  the  duties  of  the  Irish  Druids,  but  not  what  follows  : 
"  si  qui,  aut  privatus  aut  populus  eorum  decreto  non  stetit,  sacrificiis  inter- 


DRUIDISM  83 

They  are  frequently  mentioned  in  Irish  literature  as  ambas- 
sadors, spokesmen,  teachers,  and  tutors.  Kings  were  sometimes 
druids,  so  were  poets.  It  is  a  word  which  seems  to  me  to  have 
been,  perhaps  from  the  first,  used  with  great  laxity  and  great  lati- 
tude. The  druids,  so  far  as  we  can  ascertain,  do  not  seem  to  be 
connected  with  any  positive  rites  or  worship  ;  still  less  do  they 
appear  to  have  been  a  regular  priesthood,  and  there  is  not  a 
shadow  of  evidence  to  connect  them  with  any  special  worship 
as  that  of  the  sun  or  of  fire.  In  the  oldest  saga-cycle  the 
druid  appears  as  a  man  of  the  highest  rank  and  related  to 
kings.  King  Conor's  father  was  according  to  some — pro- 
bably the  oldest — accounts  a  druid  ;  so  was  Finn  mac  Cool's 
grandfather. 

Before  the  coming  of  St.  Patrick  there  certainly  existed 
images,  or,  as  they  are  called  by  the  ancient  authorities, 
"  idols  "  in  Ireland,  at  which  or  to  which  sacrifice  used  to  be 
offered,  probably  with  a  view  to  propitiating  the  earth-gods, 
possibly  the  Tuatha  De  Danann,  and  securing  good  harvests 
and  abundant  kine.  From  sacrificial  rites  spring,  almost  of 
necessity,  a  sacrificial  caste,  and  this  caste — the  druids — had 
arrived  at  a  high  state  of  organisation  in  Gaul  and  Britain 
when  observed  by  Caesar,  and  did  not  hesitate  to  sacrifice  whole 
hecatombs  of  human  beings.  "  They  think,"  said  Caesar, 
"  that  unless  a  man's  life  is  rendered  up  for  a  man's  life,  the 
will  of  the  immortal  God  cannot  be  satisfied,  and  they  have 
sacrifices  of  this  kind  as  a  national  institution." 

There  appears  nothing,  however,  that  I  am  aware  of,  to 
connect  the  druids  in  Ireland  with  human  sacrifice,  although 
such  sacrifice  appears  to  have  been  offered.  The  druids,  how- 
ever, appear  to  have  had  private  idols  of  their  own.  We  find 
a  very  minute  account  in  the  tenth-century  glossary  of  King 
Cormac  as  to  how  a  poet  performed  incantations  with  his 

dicunt.  Hasc  poena  apud  eos  est  gravissima."  Nor  do  the  Irish  appear 
to  have  had  the  over-Druid  whom  Caesar  talks  of.  (See  "  De  Bello  Gallico," 
book  vi.  chaps.  13,  14). 


84        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

idols.  The  word  "  poet "  is  here  apparently  equivalent  to 
druid,  as  the  word  "  druid  "  like  the  Latin  vates  is  frequently 
a  synonym  for  "  poet."  Here  is  how  the  glossary  explains  the 
incantation  called  Imbas  Forosnai : — 

"This,"  says  the  ancient  lexicographer,  "describes  to  the  poet 
whatsoever  thing  he  wishes  to  discover,1  and  this  is  the  manner  in 
which  it  is  performed.  The  poet  chews  a  bit  of  the  raw  red  flesh 
of  a  pig,  a  dog,  or  a  cat,  and  then  retires  with  it  to  his  own  bed 
behind  the  door,2  where  he  pronounces  an  oration  over  it  and 
offers  it  to  his  idol  gods.  He  then  invokes  the  idols,  and  if  he  has  not 
received  the  illumination  before  the  next  day,  he  pronounces  incan- 
tations upon  his  two  palms  and  takes  his  idol  gods  unto  him  [into 
his  bed]  in  order  that  he  may  not  be  interrupted  in  his  sleep.  He 
then  places  his  two  hands  upon  his  two  cheeks  and  falls  asleep.  He 
is  then  watched  so  that  he  be  not  stirred  nor  interrupted  by  any  one 
until  everything  that  he  seeks  be  revealed  to  him  at  the  end  of  a 
nomad,3  or  two  or  three,  or  as  long  as  he  continues  at  his  offering, 
and  hence  it  is  that  this  ceremony  is  called  Imbas,  that  is,  the  two 
hands  upon  him  crosswise,  that  is,  a  hand  over  and  a  hand  hither 
upon  his  cheeks.  And  St.  Patrick  prohibited  this  ceremony,  because 
it  is  a  species  of  Teinm  Laeghdha,4  that  is,  he  declared  that  any  one 
who  performed  it  should  have  no  place  in  heaven  or  on  earth." 

These  were  apparently  the  private  images  of  the  druid 
himself  which  are  spoken  of,  but  there  certainly  existed  public 
idols  in  pagan  Ireland  before  the  evangelisation  of  the  island. 
St.  Patrick  himself,  in  his  u  Confession,"  asserts  that  before  his 
coming  the  Irish  worshipped  idols — idola  et  immunda — and  we 
have  preserved  to  us  more  than  one  account  of  the  great  gold- 
covered  image  which  was  set  up  in  Moy  Slaught  5  [/.*.,  the 

1  "  Cach  raet  bid  maith  lasin  filid  agus  bud  adla(i)c  do  do  fhaillsiugad." 
a  Thus  O'Curry  ("  Miscellany  of  the  Celtic  Society,"  vol.  ii.  p.  208)  ; 
but  Stokes  translates,  "  he  puts  it  then  on  the  flagstone  behind  the  door." 
See  the  original  in  Cormac's  Glossary  under  "  Himbas."     I   have  not 
O'Donovan's  translation  by  me. 

3  O'Curry  translates  this  by  "  day."    It  is  at  present  curiously  used,  I  sup- 
pose by  a  kind  of  confusion  with  the  English  "moment,"  in  the  sense  of  a 
minute  or  other  short  measure  of  time.  At  least  I  have  often  heard  it  so  used. 

4  Another  species  of  incantation  mentioned  in  the  glossary, 
s  In  Irish  Magh  Sleacht. 


DRUIDISM  85 

Plain  of  Adoration],  believed  to  be  in  the  present  county  of 
Cavan.  It  stood  there  surrounded  by  twelve  lesser  idols  orna- 
mented with  brass,  and  may  possibly  have  been  regarded  as  a 
sun-god  ruling  over  the  twelve  seasons.  It  was  called  the 
Crom  Cruach  or  Cenn  Cruach,1  and  certain  Irish  tribes  con- 
sidered it  their  special  tutelary  deity.  The  Dinnseanchas,  or 
explanation  of  the  name  of  Moy  Slaught,  calls  it  "  the  King 
Idol  of  Erin,"  "and  around  him  were  twelve  idols  made 
of  stones,  but  he  was  of  gold.  Until  Patrick's  advent  he  was 
the  god  of  every  folk  that  colonised  Ireland.  To  him  they 
used  to  offer  the  firstlings  of  every  issue  and  the  chief  scions 
of  every  clan  ; "  and  the  ancient  poem  in  the  Book  of  Leinster 
declares  that  it  was  "  a  high  idol  with  many  fights,  which  was 
named  the  Cromm  Cruaich."  2 

The  poem  tells  us  that  "  the  brave  Gaels  used  to  worship  it, 
and  would  never  ask  from  it  satisfaction  as  to  their  portion  of 
the  hard  world  without  paying  it  tribute." 


1  In  O'Donovan's  fragmentary  manuscript  catalogue  of  the  Irish  MSS., 
in  Trinity  College,  Dublin,  he  writes  apropos  of  the  life  of  St.  Maedhog  or 
Mogue,   contained  in   H.  2,  6  :    "I  searched  the  two  Brefneys  for  the 
situation  of  Moy  Sleacht  on  which  stood  the  chief  pagan  Irish  idol  Crom 
Cruach,  but  have  failed,  being  misled  by  Lanigan,  who  had  been  misled  by 
Seward,  who  had  been  blinded  by  the  impostor  Beauford,  who  placed 
this  plain  in  the  county  of  Leitrim.     It  can,  however,  be  proved  from  this 
life  of  St.  Mogue  that  Magh  Sleacht  was  that  level  part  of  the  Barony  of 
Tullaghan  (in  the  county  of  Cavan)  in  which  the  island  of  Inis  Breaghwee 
(now  Mogue's  Island),  the  church  of  Templeport,  and  the  little  village 
of   Ballymagauran   are    situated."     I   have  been    told   that   O'Donovan 
afterwards  found   reason   to  doubt  the   correctness  of    this    identifica- 
tion. 

2  M.  de  Jubainville  connects  the  name  with  cru  (Latin,  cruor),  "  blood," 
translating  Cenn  Cruach  by  tete  sanglante  and  Crom  Cruach  by  Courbe 
sanglante,  or  Croissant  ensanglante  ;  but  Rhys  connects  it  with  Cruach, 
"  a  reek  "  or  "  mound,"  as  in  Croagh-Patrick,  St.  Patrick's  Reek.    Cenn 
Cruach  is  evidently  the  same  name  as  the  Roman  station  Penno-Crucium, 
in  the  present  county  of  Stafford,  the  Irish  "  c  "  being  as  usual  the  equivalent 
of  the  British  "  p."    This  would  make  it  appear  that  Cromm  was  no  local 
idol.    Rhys  thinks  it  got  its  name  Crom  Cruach,  "  the  stooped  one  of  the 
mound,"  from  its  bent  attitude  in  the  days  of  its  decadence. 


86        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

"  He  was  their  God,1 
The  withered  Cromm  with  many  mists, 
The  people  whom  he  shook  over  every  harbour, 
The  everlasting  kingdom  they  shall  not  have. 

To  him  without  glory 

Would  they  kill  their  piteous  wailing  offspring, 

With  much  wailing  and  peril 

To  pour  their  blood  around  Cromm  Cruaich. 

Milk  and  corn 

They  would  ask  from  him  speedily 

In  return  for  one-third  of  their  healthy  issue, 

Great  was  the  horror  and  scare  of  him. 

To  him 

Noble  Gaels  would  prostrate  themselves, 

From  the  worship  of  him,  with  many  manslaughters 

The  Plain  is  called  Moy  Sleacht. 


In  their  ranks  (stood) 

Four  times  three  stone  idols 

To  bitterly  beguile  the  hosts, 

The  figure  of  Cromm  was  made  of  gold. 

Since  the  rule 

Of  Hercmon,2  the  noble  man  of  grace, 

There  was  worshipping  of  stones 

Until  the  coming  of  good  Patrick  of  Macha  [Ardmagh]." 

There  is  not  the  slightest  reason  to  distrust  this  evidence  as 
far  as  the  existence  of  Crom  Cruach  goes. 


1  Observe  the  exquisite  and  complicated  metre  of  this  in  the  original, 
a  proof,  I  think,  that  the  lines  are  not  very  ancient.  It  has  been  edited 
from  the  Book  of  Leinster,  Book  of  Ballymote,  Book  of  Lecan,  and  Rennes 
MS.,  at  vol.  i.  p.  301  of  Mr.  Nutt's  "Voyage  of  Bran,"  by  Dr.  Kuno  Meyer— 


^ 

In  Cromm  Crin  co  n-immud  da 
In  lucht  ro  Craith  6s  each  Cuan 
In  flaithius  Euan  nochos  Bia." 

2  I.e.,  Eremon  or  Erimon,  Son  of  Milesius,  see  above,  p.  59. 


DRUIDISM  87 

"  This  particular  tradition,"  says  Mr.  Nutt,  "  like  the  majority  of 
those  contained  in  it  [the  Dinnseanchas]  must  be  of  pre-Christian 
origin.  It  would  have  been  quite  impossible  for  a  Christian  monk 
to  have  invented  such  a  story,  and  we  may  accept  it  as  a  perfectly 
genuine  bit  of  information  respecting  the  ritual  side  of  insular  Celtic 
religion."  * 

St.  Patrick  overthrew  this  idol,  according  both  to  the  poem 
in  the  Book  of  Leinster  and  the  early  lives  of  the  saint. 
The  life  says  that  when  St.  Patrick  cursed  Crom  the  ground 
opened  and  swallowed  up  the  twelve  lesser  idols  as  far  as  their 
heads,  which,  as  Rhys  acutely  observes,  shows  that  when  the 
early  Irish  lives  of  the  saint  were  written  the  pagan  sanctuary 
had  so  fallen  into  decay,  that  only  the  heads  of  the  lesser  idols 
remained  above  ground,  while  he  thinks  that  it  was  at  this 
time  from  its  bent  attitude  and  decayed  appearance  the  idol 
was  called  Crom,  "the  Stooper."2  There  is,  however,  no 

1  The  details  of  this  idol,  and,  above  all,  the  connection  in  which  it  stands 
to  the  mythic  culture-king  Tighearnmas,  could  not,  as  Mr.  Nutt  well 
remarks,  have  been  invented  by  a  Christian  monk  ;  but  nothing  is  more 
likely,  it  appears  to  me,  than  that  such  a  one,  familiar  with  the  idol  rites 
of  Judaea  from  the  Old  Testament,  may  have  added  the  embellishing  trait 
of  the  sacrifice  of  "the  firstlings  of  every  issue." 

3  Sir  Samuel  Ferguson's  admirable  poem  upon  the  death  of  Cormac 
refers  to  the  priests  of  the  idol,  but  there  is  no  recorded  evidence  of  any 
such  priesthood — 

"  Crom  Cruach  and  his  sub-gods  twelve, 

Saith  Cormac,  are  but  carven  treene, 

The  axe  that  made  them  haft  or  helve, 

Had  worthier  of  your  worship  been. 

But  he  who  made  the  tree  to  grow, 

And  hid  in  earth  the  iron  stone, 
And  made  the  man  with  mind  to  know 

The  axe's  use  is  God  alone. 

Anon  to  priests  of  Crom  -were  brought — 

Where  girded  in  their  service  dread, 
They  ministered  in  red  Moy  Slaught — 

Word  of  the  words  King  Cormac  said. 

They  loosed  their  curse  against  the  king, 
They  cursed  him  in  his  flesh  and  bones, 

And  daily  in  their  mystic  ring 
They  turned  the  maledictive  stones." 


88        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

apparent  or  recorded  connection  between  this  idol  and  the 
druids,  nor  do  the  druids  appear  to  have  fulfilled  the  functions 
of  a  public  priesthood  in  Ireland,  and  the  Introduction  to  the 
Seanchas  Mor,  or  ancient  Book  of  the  Brehon  Laws,  distinctly 
says  that,  "until  Patrick  came  only  three  classes  of  persons 
were  permitted  to  speak  in  public  in  Erin,  a  chronicler  to 
relate  events  and  to  tell  stories,  a  poet  to  eulogise  and  to 
satirise,  and  a  Brehon  to  pass  sentence  from  precedents  and 
commentaries,"  thus  noticeably  omitting  all  mention  of  the 
druids  as  a  public  body. 

The  idol  Crom  with  his  twelve  subordinates  may  very  well 
have  represented  the  sun,  upon  whom  both  season  and  crops 
and  consequently  the  life  both  of  man  and  beast  depend.  The 
gods  to  whom  the  early  Irish  seem  to  have  sacrificed,  were  no 
doubt,  as  I  think  Mr.  Nutt  has  shown,  agricultural  powers, 
the  lords  of  life  and  growth,  and  with  these  the  sun,  who  is  at 
the  root  of  all  growth,  was  intimately  connected,  u  the  object  of 
that  worship  was  to  promote  increase,  the  theory  of  worship  was 
— life  for  life." *  That  the  Irish  swore  by  the  sun  and  the  moon 
and  the  elements  is  certain  ;  the  oath  is  quoted  in  many  places,2 


D'Arcy  McGee  also  refers  to  Crom   Cruach  in  terms  almost  equally 
poetic,  but  equally  unauthorised  : — 

"  Their  ocean-god  was  Manannan  Mac  Lir, 

Whose  angry  lips 
In  their  white  foam  full  often  would  inter 

Whole  fleets  of  ships. 
Crom  was  their  day-god  and  their  thundcret, 

Made  morning  and  eclipse  ; 
Bride  was  their  queen  of  song,  and  unto  her 

They  prayed  with  fire-touched  lips  ! " 

1  Nutt's  "  Voyage  of  Bran,"  vol.  ii.  p.  250. 

2  The  elements  are  recorded  as  having  slain  King  Laoghaire  because  he 
broke  the  oath  he  had  made  by  them.    In  the  Lament  for  Patrick  Sarsfield 
as  late  as  the  seventeenth  century,  the  unknown  poet  cries  : 

"  Go  mbeannaigh'  an  ghealach  gheal  's  an  ghrian  duit, 
O  thug  tu  an  la  as  laimh  Righ  'Liam  leat." 

I.e.,  May  the  white  Moon  and  the  Sun  bless  you,  since  thou  hast  taken 
the  Day  out  of  the  hand  of  King  William. 


DRUID  ISM  89 

and  St.  Patrick  appears  to  allude  to  sun-worship  in  that  passage 
of  his  "  Confession,"  where  he  says,  "  that  sun  which  we  see 
rising  daily  at  His  bidding  for  our  sake,  it  will  never  reign, 
and  its  splendour  will  not  last  for  ever,  but  those  who  adore  it 
will  perish  miserably  for  all  eternity  :  "  this  is  also  borne  out 
by  the  passage  in  Cormac's  Glossary  of  the  images  the  pagans 
used  to  adore,  "  as,  for  instance,  the  form  or  figure  of  the  sun 
on  the  altar."  * 

Another  phase  of  the  druidic  character  seems  to  have  been 
that  he  was  looked  upon  as  an  intermediary  between  man  and 
the  invisible  powers.  In  the  story  which  tells  us  how  Midir 
the  De  Danann,  carries  off  the  king's  wife,  we  are  informed 
that  the  druid's  counsel  is  sought  as  to  how  to  recover  her, 
which  he  at  last  is  enabled  to  do  "  through  his  keys  of  science 
and  Ogam,"  after  a  year's  searching. 

The  druids  are  represented  as  carrying  wands  of  yew,  but 
there  is  nothing  in  Irish  literature,  so  far  as  I  am  aware  of, 
about  their  connection  with  the  oak,  from  the  Greek  for 
which,  S/oucy2  they  are  popularly  supposed  to  derive  their 
name.  They  used  to  be  consulted  as  soothsayers  upon  the 
probable  success  of  expeditions,  as  by  Cormac  mac  Art,  when 
he  was  thinking  about  extorting  a  double  tribute  from 
Munster,3  and  by  Dathi,  the  last  pagan  king  of  Ireland,  when 

And  a  little  later  we  find  the  harper  Carolan  swearing  "  by  the  light  of 
the  sun." 

"  Molann  gach  aon  an  te  bhios  craibhtheach  coir, 
Agus  molann  gach  aon  an  te  bhios  pairteach  leo, 
Dar  solas  na  greine  se  mo  radh  go  deo 
Go  molfad  gan  speis  gan  bhreig  an  t-ath  mar  geobhad." 

1  See  above,  p.  55,  note. 

2  The  genitive  of  drai,  the  modern  draoi  (dhree)  is  druad,  from  whence 
no  doubt  the  Latin  druidis.    It  was  Pliny  who  first  derived  the  name  from 
SpvQ.  The  word  with  a  somewhat  altered  meaning  was  in  use  till  recently. 
The  wise  men  from  the  East  are  called  druids  (draoithe)  in  O'Donnell's 
translation  of  the  New  Testament.    The  modern  word  for  enchantment 
(draoidheacht}  is    literally    "druidism,"    but    an    enchanter    is    usually 
draoidheadoir,  a  derivation  from  draoi. 

3  See  above,  p.  29,  note  2. 


90        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

setting  out  upon  his  expedition  abroad  ;  they  took  auguries  by 
birds,  they  could  cause  magic  showers  and  fires,  they  observed 
stars  and  clouds,  they  told  lucky  days,1  they  had  ordeals  of  their 
own,2  but,  above  all,  they  appear  to  have  been  tutors  or  teachers. 
Another  druidic  practice  which  is  mentioned  in  Cormac's 
Glossary  is  more  fully  treated  of  by  Keating,  in  his  account 
of  the  great  pagan  convention  at  Uisneach,  a  hill  in  Meath, 
"where  the  men  of  Ireland  were  wont  to  exchange  their 
goods  and  their  wares  and  other  jewels."  This  convention 
was  held  in  the  month  of  May, 

"And  at  it  they  were  wont  to  make  a  sacrifice  to  the  arch-god, 
whom  they  adored,  whose  name  was  Bel.  It  was  likewise  their 
usage  to  light  two  fires  to  Bel  in  every  district  in  Ireland  at  this 
season,  and  to  drive  a  pair  of  each  herd  of  cattle  that  the  district 
contained  between  these  two  fires,  as  a  preservative,  to  guard  them 
against  all  the  diseases  of  that  year.  It  is  from  that  fire  thus  made 
that  the  day  on  which  the  noble  feast  of  the  apostles  Peter  and 
James  is  held  has  been  called  Bealtaine  [in  Scotch  Beltane],  i.e., 
Bel's  fire." 

Cormac,  however,  says  nothing  about  a  god  named  Bel — who, 
indeed,  is  only  once  mentioned  elsewhere,  so  far  as  I  know  3 — 
but  explains  the  name  as  if  it  were  Bil-tene,  "goodly  fire," 
from  the  fires  which  the  druids  made  on  that  day  through 
which  to  drive  the  cattle.4 


1  Cathbad,  Conor  mac  Nessa's  Druid,  foretold  that  any  one  who  took 
arms — the  Irish  equivalent  for  knighthood — upon  a  certain  day,  would 
become  famous  for 'ever,   but  would   enjoy  only  a  brief  life.    It  was 
Cuchulain  who  assumed  arms  upon  that  day. 

2  O'Curry  quotes  a  druidic  ordeal  from  the  MS.  marked  H.  3.  17  in 
Trinity  College,  Dublin.    A  woman  to  clear  her  character  has  to  rub  her 
tongue  to  a  red-hot  adze  of  bronze,  which  had  been  heated  in  a  fire  of 
blackthorn  or  rowan-tree. 

3  "  Revue  Celt.,"  vol.  ii.  p.  443.    Is  Bel  to  be  equated  with  what  Rhys 
calls  in  one  place  "  the  chthonian  divinity  Beli  the  Great,"  of  the  Britons, 
and  in  another  "  Beli  the  Great,  the  god  of  death  and  darkness  "  ?    (See 
"Hibbert  Lectures,"  pp.  168  and  274.) 

4  The    Christian    priests,    apparently  unable  to  abolish    these    cattle 
ceremonies,  took  the  harm  out  of  them  by  transferring  them  to  St.  John's 


DRUID  ISM  91 

Post-Christian  accounts  of  the  druids  as  a  whole,  and  or 
individual  druids  differ  widely.  The  notes  on  St.  Patrick, 
in  the  Book  of  Armagh,  present  them  in  the  worst 
possible  light  as  wicked  wizards  and  augurs  and  people  of 
incantations,1  and  the  Latin  lives  of  the  Saints  nearly  always 
call  them  "magi."  Yet  they  are  admitted  to  have  been  able 
to  prophecy.  King  Laoghaire's  [Leary's]  druids  prophesied 
to  him  three  years  before  the  arrival  of  Patrick  that "  adze-heads 
would  come  over  a  furious  sea, 

"  Their  mantles  hole-headed, 
Their  staves  crook-headed, 
Their  tables  in  the  east  of  their  houses."  a 

In  the  lives  of  the  early  saints  we  find  some  of  them  on 
fair  terms  with  the  druids.  Columcille's  first  teacher  was  a 
druid,  whom  his  mother  consulted  about  him.  It  is  true  that 
in  the  Lismore  text  he  is  called  not  a  druid  but  a  faldh^  i.e.) 
•vates  or  prophet,  but  this  only  confirms  the  close  connection 
between  druid,  prophet,  and  teacher,  for  his  proceedings  are 
distinctly  druidical,  the  account  runs  :  "  Now  when  the  time 
for  reading  came  to  him  the  cleric  went  to  a  certain  prophet 

Eve,  the  24th  of  June,  where  they  are  still  observed  in  most  districts  of 
Ireland,  and  large  fires  built  with  bones  in  them,  and  occasionally  cattle 
are  driven  through  them  or  people  leap  over  them.  The  cattle  were  pro- 
bably driven  through  the  fire  as  a  kind  of  substitute  for  their  sacrifice, 
and  the  bones  burnt  in  the  fire  are  probably  a  substitute  for  the  bones 
of  the  cattle  that  should  have  been  offered  up.  Hence  the  fires  are 
called  "teine  cnamh"  (bone-fire)  in  Irish,  and  bone-fire  (not  bonfire)  in 
English. 

1  St.  Patrick  is  there  stated  to  have  found  around  the  king  "  scivos  et 
magos  et  auruspices,  incantatores  et  omnis  malse  artis  inventores." 

2  This  means  tonsured    men,  with  cowls,  with  pastoral  staves,  with 
altars  in  the  east  end  of  the  churches.    The  ancient  Irish  rann  is  very 
curious  :— 

"  Ticcat  Tailcinn 
Tar  muir  meirceann, 
A  mbruit  toillceann. 
A  crainn  croimceann. 
A  miasa  n-airrter  tige 
Friscerat  uile  amen." 


92        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

who  abode  in  the  land  to  ask  him  when  the  boy  ought  to 
begin.  When  the  prophet  had  scanned  the  sky,  he  said  '  Write 
an  alphabet  for  him  now.'  The  alphabet  was  written  on  a 
cake,  and  Columcille  consumed  the  cake  in  this  wise,  half  to 
the  east  of  a  water,  and  half  to  the  west  of  a  water.  Said  the 
prophet  through  grace  of  prophecy,  '  So  shall  this  child's 
territory  be,  half  to  the  east  of  the  sea,  and  half  to  the  west  of 
the  sea.'"  x  Columcille  himself  is  said  to  have  composed  a 
poem  beginning,  "  My  Druid  is  the  son  of  God."  Another 
druid  prophesies  of  St.  Brigit  before  she  was  born,2  and  other 
instances  connecting  the  early  saints  with  druids  are  to  be 
found  in  their  lives,  which  at  least  show  that  there  existed 
a  sufficient  number  of  persons  in  early  Christian  Ireland  who 
did  not  consider  the  druids  wholly  bad,  but  believed  that 
they  could  prophecy,  at  least  in  the  interests  of  the  saints. 

From  what  we  have  said,  it  is  evident  that  there  were 
always  druids  in  Ireland,  and  that  they  were  personages  of 
great  importance.  But  it  is  not  clear  that  they  were  an 
organised  body  like  the  druids  of  Gaul,3  or  like  the  Bardic 
body  in  later  times  in  Ireland,  nor  is  it  clear  what  their  exact 
functions  were,  but  they  seem  to  have  been  teachers  above 
everything  else.  It  is  clear,  too,  that  the  ancient  Irish — at 
least  in  some  cases — possessed  and  worshipped  images.  That 
they  sacrificed  to  them,  and  even  offered  up  human  beings,  is 
by  no  means  so  certain,  the  evidence  for  this  resting  upon  the 
single  passage  in  the  Dinnseanchas,  and  the  poem  (in  a  modern 
style  of  metre)  in  the  Book  of  Leinster,  which  we  have  just 
given,  and  which  though  it  is  evidence  for  the  existence  of  the 
idol  Crom  Cruach,  known  to  us  already  from  other  sources, 
may  possibly  have  had  the  trait  of  human  sacrifice  added  as  a 
heightening  touch  by  a  Christian  chronicler  familiar  with  the 

1  I.e.,  one  half  in  Ireland,  the  other  in  Scotland,  alluding  to  his  work  at 
lona  and  among  the  Picts. 

2  Stokes,  "  Lives  of  the  Saints,  from  the  Book  of  Lismore,"  p.  183. 

3  Who  were,  according  to  Ammianus  Marcellinus,  quoting  the  Greek 
historian,  Timagenes,  "  sodaliciis  adstricti  consortiis." 


DRUIDISM  93 

accounts  of  Moloch  and  Ashtaroth.  The  complete  silence 
which,  outside  of  these  passages,1  exists  in  all  Irish  literature 
as  to  a  proceeding  so  terrifying  to  the  popular  imagination, 
seems  to  me  a  proof  that  if  human  sacrifice  was  ever  resorted 
to  at  all,  it  had  fallen  into  abeyance  before  the  landing;  of 
the  Christian  missionaries. 

1  There  is  one  other  instance  of  human  sacrifice  mentioned  in  the  Book 
of  Ballymote,  but  this  is  recorded  in  connection  with  funeral  games,  and 
appears  to  have  been  an  isolated  piece  of  barbarity  performed  "  that  it 
might  be  a  reproach  to  the  Momonians  for  ever,  and  that  it  might  be  a 
trophy  over  them."  Fiachra,  a  brother  of  Niall  of  the  Nine  Hostages,  in 
the  fourth  century,  carried  off  fifty  hostages  from  Munster,  and  dying  of 
his  wounds,  the  hostages  were  buried  alive  with  him,  round  his  grave  : 
"ro  hadnaicead  na  geill  tucadh  a  neass  ocus  siad  beo  im  fheart  Fiachra 
comba  hail  for  Mumain  do  gres,  ocus  comba  comrama  forra."  For 
another  allusion  to  "  human  sacrifice "  see  O' Curry's  "  Manners  and 
Customs,"  vol.  i.  p.  dcxli  and  cccxxxiii.  The  "  Dinnseanchas,"  quoted 
from  above,  is  a  topographical  work  explaining  the  origin  of  Irish  place- 
names,  and  attributed  to  Amergin  mac  Amhalgaidh,  poet  to  King  Diarmuid 
mac  Cearbaill,  who  lived  in  the  sixth  century.  "There  seems  no  reason, "says 
Dr.  Atkinson,  in  his  preface  to  the  facsimile  Book  of  Leinster,  "  for  disputing 
his  claims  to  be  regarded  as  the  original  compiler  of  a  work  of  a  similar 
character — the  original  nucleus  is  not  now  determinable."  The  oldest 
copy  is  the  Book  of  Leinster  and  treats  of  nearly  two  hundred  places  and 
contains  eighty-eight  poems.  The  copy  in  the  Book  of  Ballymote  contains 
one  hundred  and  thirty-nine,  and  that  in  the  Book  of  Lecan  even  more. 
The  total  number  of  all  the  poems  contained  in  the  different  copies  is 
close  on  one  hundred  and  seventy.  The  copy  in  the  Bodleian  Library 
was  published  by  Whitley  Stokes  in  "  Folk-lore,"  December,  1892,  and 
that  in  the  Advocates  Library,  in  Edinburgh,  in  "  Folk-lore,"  December, 
1893.  The  prose  tales,  from  a  copy  at  Rennes,  he  published  in  the  "  Revue 
Celtique,"  vols.  xv.  and  xvi.  An  edition  of  the  oldest  copy  in  the  Book 
of  Leinster  is  still  a  desideratum.  The  whole  work  is  full  of  interesting 
pagan  allusions,  but  the  different  copies,  in  the  case  of  many  names,  vary 
greatly  and  even  contradict  each  other. 


CHAPTER   X 

THE    IRISH    ELYSIUM    AND    BELIEF    IN    REBIRTH 

CJESAR,  writing  some  fifty  years  before  Christ  about  the 
Gauls  and  their  Druids,  tells  his  countrymen  that  one  of  the 
prime  articles  which  they  taught  was  that  men's  souls  do  not 
die — non  interlre  animas — "  but  passed  over  ^after  death  from 
one  into  another,"  and  their  opinion  is,  adds  Caesar,  that  this 
doctrine  u  greatly  tends  to  the  arousing  of  valour,  all  fear  of 
death  being  despised."  *  A  few  years  later  Diodorus  Siculus 
wrote  that  one  of  their  doctrines  was  "  that  the  souls  of  men 
are  undying,  and  that  after  finishing  their  term  of  existence 
they  pass  into  another  body,"  adding  that  at  burials  of  the 
dead  some  actually  cast  letters  addressed  to  their  departed 
relatives  upon  the  funeral  pile,  under  the  belief  that  the  dead 
would  read  them  in  the  next  world.  Timagenes,  a  Greek  who 
wrote  a  history  of  Gaul  now  lost,  Strabo,  Valerius  Maximus, 
Pomponius  Mela,  and  Lucan 2  in  his  "  Pharsalia,"  all  have 
passages  upon  this  vivid  belief  of  the  Gauls  that  the  soul 
lived  again.  This  doctrine  must  also  have  been  current  in 
Britain,  where  the  Druidic  teaching  was,  to  use  Caesar's  phrase, 

1  "  De  Bello  Gallico,"  vi.  14. 

2  See  "Voyage  of  Bran,"  vol.  ii.  pp.  107-111,  where  all  these  passages 
have  been  lucidly  collected  by  Mr.  Nutt. 

94 


THE  ELYSIUM  AND  BELIEF  IN  REBIRTH  95 

"discovered,  and  thence  brought  into    Gaul,"  and  it  would 
have  been  curious  indeed  if  Ireland  did  not  share  in  it. 

There  is,  moreover,  abundant  evidence  to  show  that  the 
doctrine  of  metempsychosis  was  perfectly  familiar  to  the  pagan 
Irish,  as  may  be  seen  in  the  stories  of  the  births  of  Cuchulain, 
Etain,  the  Two  Swineherds,  Conall  Cearnach,  Tuan  Mac 
Cairill,  and  Aedh  Slane.1  But  there  is  not,  in  our  existing 
literature,  any  evidence  that  the  belief  was  ever  elevated  into 
a  philosophical  doctrine  of  general  acceptance,  applicable  to 
every  one,  still  less  that  there  was  ever  any  ethical  stress  laid 
upon  the  belief  in  rebirth.  It  is  only  the  mythological 
element  in  the  belief  in  metempsychosis  which  has  come  down 
to  us,  and  from  which  we  ascertain  that  the  pagan  Irish 
believed  that  supernatural  beings  could  become  clothed  in  flesh 
and  blood,  could  enter  into  women  and  be  born  again,  could 
take  different  shapes  and  pass  through  different  stages  of 
existence,  as  fowls,  animals,  or  men.  What  the  actual 
doctrinal  form  of  the  familiar  idea  was,  or  how  far  it  influenced 
the  popular  mind,  we  have  no  means  of  knowing.  But  as 
Mr.  Nutt  well  remarks,  "early  Irish  religion  must  have 
possessed  some  ritual,  and  what  in  default  of  an  apter  term 
must  be  styled  philosophical  as  well  as  mythological  elements. 
Practically  the  latter  alone  have  come  down  to  us,  and  that  in 
a  romantic  rather  than  in  a  strictly  mythical  form.  Could 
we  judge  Greek  religion  aright  if  fragments  of  Apollodorus  or 
the  '  Metamorphoses  '  were  all  that  survived  of  the  literature  it 
inspired  ?  "2  The  most  that  can  be  said  upon  the  subject,  then, 
is  that  the  doctrine  of  rebirth  was  actually  taught  with  a 
deliberate  ethical  purpose — that  of  making  men  brave,  since  on 
being  slain  in  this  life  they  passed  into  a  new  one — amongst 
the  Celts  of  Gaul,  that  it  must  have  been  familiar  to  the 
Britons  between  whose  Druids  and  those  of  Gaul  so  close  a 
resemblance  subsisted,  and  that  the  idea  of  rebirth  which 

1  All  of  these  have  been  studied  by  Mr.  Nutt,  chap.  xiv. 
8  Vol.  ii.  p.  121. 


96        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

forms  part  of  half-a-dozen  existing  Irish  sagas,  was  perfectly 
familiar  to  the  Irish  Gael,  although  we  have  no  evidence  that 
it  was  connected  with  any  ritual  or  taught  as  a  deliberate 
doctrine. 

In  reconstructing  from  our  existing  literature  the  beliefs  and 
religion  ot  our  ancestors,  we  can  only  do  so  incompletely,  and 
with  difficulty,  from  passages  in  the  oldest  sagas  and  other 
antique  fragments,  mostly  of  pagan  origin,  from  allusions  in 
very  esrly  poems,  from  scanty  notices  in  the  annals,  and  from 
the  lives  of  early  saints.  The  relatively  rapid  conversion  of  the 
island  to  Christianity  in  the  fifth  century,  and  the  enthusiasm 
with  which  the  new  religion  was  received,  militated  against 
any  full  transmission  of  pagan  belief  or  custom.  We  cannot 
now  tell  whether  all  the  ancient  Irish  were  imbued  with  the 
same  religious  beliefs,  or  whether  these  varied — as  they  probably 
did — from  tribe  to  tribe.  Probably  all  the  Celtic  races,  even 
in  their  most  backward  state,  believed — so  far  as  they  had  any 
persuasion  on  the  subject  at  all — in  the  immortality  of  the  soul. 
Where  the  souls  of  the  dead  went  to,  when  they  were  not  re- 
incarnated, is  not  so  clear.  They  certainly  believed  in  a  happy 
Other- World,  peopled  by  a  happy  race,  whither  people  were 
sometimes  carried  whilst  still  alive,  and  to  gain  which  they 
either  traversed  the  sea  to  the  north-west,  or  else  entered  one 
of  the  Sidh  [Shee]  mounds,  or  else  again  dived  beneath  the 
water.1  In  all  cases,  however,  whatever  the  mode  of  access, 
the  result  is  much  the  same.  A  beautiful  country  is  discovered 

1  In  a  large  collection  of  nearly  sixty  folk-lore  stories  taken  down  in 
Irish  from  the  lips  of  the  peasantry,  I  find  about  five  contain  allusions  to 
the  belief  in  another  world  full  of  life  under  water,  and  about  four  in  a  life 
in  the  inside  of  the  hills.  The  Hy  Brasil  type — that  of  finding  the  dead 
living  again  on  an  ocean  island — is,  so  far  as  I  have  yet  collected,  quite 
unrepresented  amongst  them.  An  old  Irish  expression  for  dying  is  going 
"  to  the  army  of  the  dead,"  used  by  Deirdre  in  her  lament,  and  I  find  a 
variant  of  it  so  late  as  the  beginning  of  this  century,  in  a  poem  by  Raftery, 
a  blind  musician  of  the  county  Mayo,  who  tells  his  countrymen  to  remember 
that  they  must  go  "  to  the  meadow  of  the  dead."  See  Raftery's  "  Aith- 
reachas,"  in  my  "  Religious  Songs  of  Connacht,"  p.  266. 


THE  ELYSIUM  AND  BELIEF  IN  REBIRTH  97 

where  a  happy  race  free  from  care,  sickness,  and  death,  spend 
the  smiling  hours  in  simple,  sensuous  pleasures. 

There  is  a  graphic  description  of  this  Elysium  in  the  "  Voyage 
of  Bran,"  a  poem  evidently  pagan,1  and  embodying  purely 
pagan  conceptions.  A  mysterious  female,  an  emissary  from 
the  lovely  land,  appears  in  Bran's  household  one  day,  when  the 
doors  were  closed  and  the  house  full  of  chiefs  and  princes,  and 
no  one  knew  whence  she  came,  and  she  chanted  to  them 
twenty-eight  quatrains  describing  the  delights  of  the  pleasant 
country. 

"  There  is  a  distant  isle 
Around  which  sea-horses  glisten, 
A  fair  course  against  the  white-swelling  surge, 
Four  feet  uphold  it.2 

Feet  of  white  bronze  under  it, 
Glittering  through  beautiful  ages. 
Lovely  land  throughout  the  world's  age 
On  which  the  many  blossoms  drop. 

An  ancient  tree  there  is  with  blossoms 
On  which  birds  call  to  the  Hours. 
Tis  in  harmony,  it  is  their  wont 
To  call  together  every  Hour. 


1  Admirably  translated  by  Kuno  Meyer,  who  says  "  there  are  a  large 
number  of  [word]  forms  in  the  'Voyage  of  Bran/  as  old  as  any  to  be  found 
in  the  Wurzburg  Glosses,"  and  these  Professor  Thurneysen  ascribes  unhesi- 
tatingly to  the  seventh  century.    Zimmer  also  agrees  that  the  piece  is  not 
later  than  the  seventh  century,  that  is,  was  first  written  down  in  the  seventh 
century,  but  this  is  no  criterion  of  the  date  of  the  original  composition. 

2  I  give  Kuno  Meyer's  translation  :  in  the  original — 

"  Fil  inis  i  n-eterchein 
Immataitnet  gabra  rein 
Rith  find  fris  toibgel  tondat 
Ceitheoir  cossa  foslongat." 

In  modern  Irish  the  first  two  lines  would  run 

"  [Go]  bhfuil  inis  i  n-idir-chein 
Um  a  dtaithnigeann  gabhra  rein." 

Rein  being  the  genitive  of  rian,  "  the  sea,"  which,  according  to  M.  d'Arbois, 
the  Gaels  brought  with  them  as  a  reminiscence  of  the  Rhine,  see  above  p.  10. 


98        LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

Unknown  is  wailing  or  treachery 
In  the  familiar  cultivated  land, 
There  is  nothing  rough  or  harsh, 
But  sweet  music  striking  on  the  ear. 

Without  grief,  without  sorrow,  without  death, 
Without  any  sickness,  without  debility, 
That  is  the  sign  of  Emain, 
Uncommon,  an  equal  marvel. 

A  beauty  of  a  wondrous  land 
Whose  aspects  are  lovely, 
Whose  view  is  a  fair  country, 
Incomparable  in  its  haze. 


The  sea  washes  the  wave  against  the  land, 
Hair  of  crystal  drops  from  its  mane. 

Wealth,  treasures  of  every  hue, 

Are  in  the  gentle  land,  a  beauty  of  freshness, 

Listening  to  sweet  music, 

Drinking  the  best  of  wine. 

Golden  chariots  on  the  sea  plain 
Rising  with  the  tide  to  the  sun, 
Chariots  of  silver  in  the  plain  of  sports 
And  of  unblemished  bronze. 


At  sunrise  there  will  come 

A  fair  man  illumining  level  lands, 

He  rides  upon  the  fair  sea- washed  plain, 

He  stirs  the  ocean  till  it  is  blood. 


Then  they  row  to  the  conspicuous  stone 
From  which  arise  a  hundred  strains. 

It  sings  a  strain  unto  the  host 

Through  long  ages,  it  is  not  sad, 

Its  music  swells  with  choruses  of  hundreds. 

They  look  for  neither  decay  nor  death. 


THE  ELYSIUM  AND  BELIEF  IN  REBIRTH  99 

There  will  come  happiness  with  health 

To  the  land  against  which  laughter  peals. 

Into  Imchiuin  [the  very  calm  place]  at  every  season, 

Will  come  everlasting  joy. 

It  is  a  day  of  lasting  weather 
That  showers  [down]  silver  on  the  land, 
A  pure-white  cliff  in  the  verge  of  the  sea 
Which  from  the  sun  receives  its  heat." 

Manannan,  the  Irish  Neptune,  driving  in  a  chariot  across  the 
sea,  which  to  him  was  a  flowery  plain,  meets  Bran  thereafter, 
and  chants  to  him  twenty-eight  more  verses  about  the  lovely 
land  of  Moy  Mell,  "  the  Pleasant  Plain,"  which  the  unknown 
lady  had  described,  and  they  are  couched  in  the  same  strain. 

"  Though  [but]  one  rider  is  seen 
In  Moy  Mell  of  many  powers, 
There  are  many  steeds  on  its  surface 
Although  thou  seest  them  not. 


A  beautiful  game,  most  delightful 
They  play  [sitting]  at  the  luxurious  wine, 
Men  and  gentle  women  under  a  bush 
Without  sin,  without  crime. 


A  wood  with  blossom  and  fruit, 
On  which  is  the  vine's  veritable  fragrance  ; 
A  wood  without  decay,  without  defect, 
On  which  are  leaves  of  golden  hue." 

Then,  prophesying  of  the  death  of  Mongan,  he  sang — 

"  He  will  drink  a  drink  from  Loch  Lo, 
While  he  looks  at  the  stream  of  blood  ; 
The  white  hosts  will  take  him  under  a  wheel  of  clouds, 
To  the  gathering  where  there  is  no  sorrow." 

I  know  of  few  things  in  literature  comparable  to  this  lovely 
description,  at  once  so  mystic  and  so  sensuous,  of  the  joys  of 


ioo      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

the  other  world.  To  my  mind  it  breathes  the  very  essence  of 
Celtic  glamour,  and  is  shot  through  and  through  with  the 
Celtic  love  of  form,  beauty,  landscape,  company,  and  the 
society  of  woman.  How  exquisite  the  idea  of  being  trans- 
ported from  this  world  to  an  isle  around  which  sea-horses 
glisten,  where  from  trees  covered  with  blossoms  the  birds  call 
in  harmony  to  the  Hours,  a  land  whose  haze  is  incomparable  ! 
What  a  touch  !  Where  hair  of  crystal  drops  from  the  mane 
of  the  wave  as  it  washes  against  the  land  ;  where  the  chariots 
of  silver  and  of  bronze  assemble  on  the  plain  of  sports, 
in  the  country  against  which  laughter  peals,  and  the  day  of 
lasting  weather  showers  silver  on  the  land.  And  then  to  play 
sitting  at  the  luxurious  wine — 

"  Men  and  gentle  women  under  a  bush 
Without  sin,  without  crime  !  " 

I  verily  believe  there  is  no  Gael  alive  even  now  who  would 
not  in  his  heart  of  hearts  let  drift  by  him  the  Elysiums  of 
Virgil,  Dante,  and  Milton  to  grasp  at  the  Moy  Mell  of  the 
unknown  Irish  pagan. 

In  another  perhaps  equally  ancient  story,  that  of  the  elope- 
ment of  Connla,  son  of  Conn  of  the  Hundred  Battles,1  with  a 
lady  who  is  a  denizen  of  this  mysterious  land,  we  find  the 
unknown  visitor  giving  nearly  the  same  account  of  it  as  that 
given  to  Bran. 

"  Whence  hast  thou  come,  O  Lady  ?  "  said  the  Druid. 

"  I  have  come,"  said  she,  "  from  the  lands  of  the  living  in 
which  there  is  neither  death,  nor  sin,  nor  strife;2  we  enjoy 
perpetual  feasts  without  anxiety,  and  benevolence  without 
contention.  A  large  Sidh  [Shee,  "  fairy-mound  "]  is  where  we 

1  Preserved  in  the  Leabhar  na  h-Uidhre,  a  MS.  compiled  from  older 
ones  about  the  year  noo.    See  for  this  story  "  Gaelic  Journal,"  vol.  ii. 
p.  306. 

2  "  Dodeochadsafor  in  ben  a  tirib  bed  ait  inna  hi  has  na  pcccad  na  imorbus, 
i.e.  [go],  ndeachas-sa  ar  san  bhean  6  tiribh  na  mbeo,  ait  ann  nach  mbionn 
bas  na  peacadh  na  immarbhadh." 


THE  ELYSIUM  AND  BELIEF  IN  REBIRTH  101 

dwell,  so  that  it  is  hence  we  are  called  the  Sidh  [Shee] 
people." 

The  Druids  appear,  as  I  have  already  remarked,  to  have 
acted  as  intermediaries  between  the  inhabitants  of  the  other 
world  and  of  this,  and  in  the  story  of  Connla  one  of  them 
chants  against  the  lady  so  that  her  voice  was  not  heard,  and  he 
drives  her  away  through  his  incantation.  She  comes  back, 
however,  at  the  end  of  a  month,  and  again  summons  the  prince. 

"  'Tis  no  lofty  seat,"  she  chanted,  "  upon  which  sits  Connla 
amid  short-lived  mortals  awaiting  fearful  death  ;  the  ever-living 
ones  invite  thee  to  be  the  ruler  over  the  men  of  Tethra." 

Conn  of  the  Hundred  Battles,  who  had  overheard  her 
speech,  cried,  "  Call  me  the  Druid  ;  I  see  her  tongue  has 
been  allowed  her  to-day  [again]." 

But  she  invisible  to  all  save  the  prince  replied  to  him — 

"  O  Conn  of  the  Hundred  Battles,  druidism  is  not  loved, 
for  little  has  it  progressed  to  honour  on  the  great  Righteous 
Strand,  with  its  numerous,  wondrous,  various  families." 

After  that  she  again  invites  the  prince  to  follow  her, 
saying — 

"  There  is  another  land  which  it  were  well  to  seek. 

I  see  the  bright  sun  is  descending,  though  far  off  we  shall  reach  it 

ere  night. 

Tis  the  land  that  cheers  the  mind  of  every  one  that  turns  to  me. 
There  is  no  race  in  it  save  only  women  and  maidens." 

The  prince  is  overcome  with  longing.  He  leaps  into  her 
well-balanced,  gleaming  boat  of  pearl.  Those  who  were  left 
behind  upon  the  strand  "  saw.  them  dimly,  as  far  as  the  sight 
of  their  eyes  could  reach.  They  sailed  the  sea  away  from 
them,  and  from  that  day  to  this  have  not  been  seen,  and  it  is 
unknown  where  they  went  to." 

In  the  fine  story  of  Cuchulain's  sick-bed,1  in  which  though 

1  Also  contained  in  the  Leabhar  na  h-Uidhre,  a  MS.  transcribed  about 
the  year  uoo. 


102      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

the  language  of  the  text  is  not  so  ancient,  the  conceptions 
are  equally  pagan,  the  deserted  wife  of  Manannan,  the  Irish 
Neptune,  falls  in  love  with  the  human  warrior,  and  invites 
him  to  the  other-world  to  herself,  through  the  medium  of  an 
ambassadress.  Cuchulain  sends  his  charioteer  Laeg  along  with 
this  mysterious  ambassadress,  that  he  may  bring  him  word 
again,  to  what  kind  of  land  he  is  invited.  Laeg,  when  he 
returns,  repeats  a  glowing  account  of  its  beauty,  which 
coincides  closely  with  those  given  by  the  ladies  who  summoned 
Bran  and  Connla. 

"  There  are  at  the  western  door, 

In  the  place  where  the  sun  goes  down, 
A  stud  of  steeds  of  the  best  of  breeds 
Of  the  grey  and  the  golden  brown. 

There  wave  by  the  eastern  door 

Three  crystal-crimson  trees, 
Whence  the  warbling  bird  all  day  is  heard 

On  the  wings  of  the  perfumed  breeze. 

And  before  the  central  door 

Is  another,  of  gifts  untold. 
All  silvern-bright  in  the  warm  sunlight, 

Its  branches  gleam  like  gold." x 


In  the  saga  of  the  Wooing  of  Etain  we  meet  with  what  is 
substantially  the  same  description.  She  is  the  wife  of  one  of 
the  Tuatha  De  Danann,  is  reborn  as  a  mortal,  and  weds  the 
king  of  Ireland.  Her  former  husband,  Midir,  still  loves  her, 
follows  her,  and  tries  to  win  her  back.  She  is  unwilling,  and 
he  chants  to  her  this  description  of  the  land  to  which  he  would 
lure  her. 

1  Literally  :  "  There  are  at  the  western  door,  in  the  place  where  the  sun 
goes  down,  a  stud  of  steeds  with  grey-speckled  manes  and  another  crimson 
brown.  There  are  at  the  eastern  door  three  ancient  trees  of  crimson 
crystal,  from  which  incessantly  sing  soft-toned  birds.  There  is  a  tree  in 
front  of  the  court,  it  cannot  be  matched  in  harmony,  a  tree  of  silver  against 
which  the  sun  shines,  like  unto  gold  is  its  great  sheen." 


THE  ELYSIUM  AND  BELIEF  IN  REBIRTH  103 

"  Come  back  to  me,  lady,  to  love  and  to  shine 
In  the  land  that  was  thine  in  the  long-ago, 
Where  of  primrose  hue  is  the  golden  hair 
And  the  limbs  are  as  fair  as  the  wreathed  snow. 

To  the  lakes  of  delight  that  no  storm  may  curl, 
Where  the  teeth  are  as  pearl,  the  eyes  as  sloes, 

Which  alight,  whenever  they  choose  to  seek, 

On  the  bloom  of  a  cheek  where  the  foxglove  glows. 

Each  brake  is  alive  with  the  flowers  of  spring, 
Whence  the  merles  sing  in  their  shy  retreat  ; 

Though  sweet  be  the  meadows  of  Innisfail, 
Our  beautiful  vale  is  far  more  sweet. 

Though  pleasant  the  mead  be  of  Innisfail, 
More  pleasant  the  ale  of  that  land  of  mine, 

A  land  of  beauty,  a  land  of  truth, 

Where  youth  shall  never  grow  old  or  pine. 

Fair  rivers  brighten  the  vale  divine, — 
There  are  choicest  of  wine  and  of  mead  therein, 

And  heroes  handsome  and  women  fair 
Are  in  dalliance  there  without  stain  or  sin. 

From  thence  we  see,  though  we  be  not  seen, 
We  know  what  has  been  and  shall  be  again, 

And  the  cloud  that  was  raised  by  the  first  man's  fall, 
Has  concealed  us  all  from  the  eyes  of  men. 

Then  come  with  me,  lady,  to  joys  untold, 
And  a  circlet  of  gold  on  thy  head  shall  be, 

Banquets  of  milk  and  of  wine  most  rare, 
Thou  shalt  share,  O  lady,  and  share  with  me." " 

1  A  Befind  in  raga  lim  /  I  tir  n-ingnad  hifil  rind  /  Is  barr  sobairche  folt 
and  /  Is  dath  snechtu  chorp  coind.  Literally  :  "  O  lady  fair  wouldst  thou 
come  with  me  to  the  wondrous  land  that  is  ours,  where  the  hair  is  as  the 
blossom  of  the  primrose,  where  the  tender  body  is  as  fair  as  snow. 
There  shall  be  no  grief  there  nor  sorrow  ;  white  are  the  teeth  there,  black 
are  the  eyebrows,  a  delight  to  the  eye  is  the  number  of  our  host,  and  on 
every  cheek  is  the  hue  of  the  foxglove. 

"  The  crimson  of  the  foxglove  is  in  every  brake,  delightful  to  the  eye 
[there]  the  blackbird's  eggs.  Although  pleasant  to  behold  are  the  plains  of 
Innisfail,  after  frequenting  the  Great  Plain  rarely  wouldst  thou  [remember 
them].  Though  heady  to  thee  the  ale  of  Innisfail,  headier  the  ale  of  the 


104     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

The  casual  Christian  allusion  in  the  penultimate  verse  need 
not  lead  us  astray,  nor  does  it  detract  from  the  essentially 
pagan  character  of  the  rest,  for  throughout  almost  the  whole 
of  Irish  literature  the  more  distinctly  or  ferociously  pagan  any 
piece  is,  the  more  certain  it  is  to  have  a  Christian  allusion 
added  at  the  end  as  a  make-weight.  There  is  great  ingenuity 
displayed  in  thus  turning  the  pagan  legend  into  a  Christian 
homily  by  the  addition  of  two  lines  suggesting  that  if  men 
were  not  sinful,  this  beautiful  pagan  world  and  the  beautiful 
forms  that  inhabited  it  would  be  visible  to  the  human  ken. 
This  was  sufficient  to  disarm  any  hostility  to  the  legend  on  the 
part  of  the  Church. 

From  what  we  have  said  it  is  evident  that  the  ancient  Irish 
pagans  believed  in  the  possibility  of  rebirth,  and  founded 
many  of  their  mythical  sagas  on  the  doctrine  of  metempsychosis, 
and  that  they  had  a  highly  ornate  and  fully-developed  belief  in 
a  happy  other- world  or  Elysium,  to  which  living  beings  were 
sometimes  carried  off  without  going  through  the  forms  of 
death.  But  it  is  impossible  to  say  whether  rebirth  with  life 
in  another  world,  for  those  whom  the  gods  favoured,  was 
taught  as  a  doctrine  or  had  any  ethical  significance  attached  to 
it  by  the  druids  of  Ireland,  as  it  most  undoubtedly  had  by 
their  cousins  the  druids  of  Gaul. 

great  land,  a  beauty  of  a  land,  the  land  I  speak  of.  Youth  never  grows 
there  into  old  age.  Warm,  sweet  streams  traverse  the  country  with 
choicest  mead  and  choicest  wine,  handsome  persons  [are  there],  without 
blemish,  conception  without  sin,  without  stain. 

"  We  see  every  one  on  every  side,  and  no  one  seeth  us  ;  the  cloud  of 
Adam's  wrong-doing  has  concealed  us  from  being  numbered.  O  lady,  if 
thou  comest  to  my  brave  land,  it  is  a  crown  of  gold  shall  be  upon  thy 
head,  fresh  flesh  of  swine,  banquets  of  new  milk  and  ale  shalt  thou  have 
with  me  then,  fair  lady." 

Apropos  of  the  Irish  liking  for  swine's  flesh,  Stanihurst  tells  a  good 
story  :  "  '  No  meat,'  says  he,  '  they  fansie  so  much  as  porke,  and  the  fatter 
the  better.  One  of  John  O'Nel's  [Shane  O'Neill's]  household  demanded 
of  his  fellow  whether  beefe  were  better  than  porke.  '  That,'  quoth  the 
other,  '  is  as  intricate  a  question  as  to  ask  whether  thou  art  better  than 
O'Nell.' " 


CHAPTER  XI 


WE  now  come  to  the  question,  When  and  where  did  the  Irish 
get  their  alphabet,  and  at  what  time  did  they  begin  to  practise 
the  art  of  writing  ?  The  present  alphabet  of  the  Irish,  which 
they  have  used  in  all  their  books  from  the  seventh  century 
down,  and  probably  for  three  hundred  years  before  that,  is  only 
a  modification — and  a  peculiarly  beautiful  one — of  the  Roman 
letters.  This  alphabet  they  no  doubt  borrowed  from  their 
neighbours,  the  Romanised  Britons,  within  whose  territory 
they  had  established  themselves,  and  with  whom — now  in 
peace,  now  in  war — they  carried  on  a  vigorous  and  constant 
intercourse.1  The  general  use  of  letters  in  Ireland  is,  how- 
ever, to  be  attributed  to  the  early  Christian  missionaries. 

But  there  is  no  reason  to  believe  that  it  was  St.  Patrick,  or 
indeed  any  missionary,  who  first  introduced  them.  There 
probably  were  in  Ireland  many  persons  in  the  fourth  century, 
or  perhaps  even  earlier,  who  were  acquainted  with  the  art  of 

1  Dr.  Jones,  the  Bishop  of  St.  Davids,  in  his  interesting  book,  "  Vestiges 
of  the  Gael  in  Gwynedd  "  (North  Wales)  has  come  to  the  conclusion  that 
the  Irish  occupied  the  whole  of  Anglesey,  Carnarvon,  Merioneth,  and 
Cardiganshire,  with  at  least  portions  of  Denbighshire,  Montgomery,  and 
Radnor.  Their  occupation  of  part  of  the  south  and  south-west  of 
England  is  attested  by  the  area  of  Ogam  finds. 

105 


io6     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

writing.  Already,  at  the  beginning  of  the  third  century  at 
least,  says  Zimmer  in  his  "  Keltische  Studien,"  British 
missionaries  were  at  work  in  the  south  of  Ireland.  Bede,  in 
his  history,  says  distinctly  that  Palladius  was  sent  from  Rome 
in  the  year  431  to  the  Irish  "  who  believed  in  Christ  " — "ad 
Scottos  in  Christum  credentes."  Already,  at  the  close  of  the 
third  century,  there  was  an  organised  British  episcopate,  and 
three  British  bishops  attended  the  Council  of  Aries  held  in 
314.  It  is  quite  impossible  that  the  numerous  Irish  colonies 
settled  in  the  south  of  England  and  in  Wales  could  have 
failed  to  come  into  contact  with  this  organised  Church,  and 
even  to  have  been  influenced  by  it.  The  account  in  the 
Acta  Sanctorum,  of  Declan,  Bishop  of  Waterford,  said  to 
have  been  born  in  347,  and  of  Ailbe,  another  southern  bishop, 
who  met  St.  Patrick,  may  be  looked  upon  as  perfectly  true 
in  so  far  as  it  relates  to  the  actual  existence  of  these  pre- 
Patrician  bishops.  St.  Chrysostom,  writing  in  the  year  387, 
mentions  that  already  churches  and  altars  had  been  erected  in 
the  British  Isles.  Pelagius,  the  subtle  and  persuasive  heresiarch 
who  taught  with  such  success  at  Rome  about  the  year  400, 
and  acquired  great  influence  there,  was  of  Irish  descent — "  habet 
progeniem  Scotticae  gentis  de  Brittanorum  vicinia,"  said  St. 
Jerome.  As  St.  Augustine  and  Prosper  of  Aquitaine  call 
him  "  Briton  "  and  "  British  scribe,"  he  probably  belonged  to 
one  of  the  Irish  colonies  settled  in  Wales  or  the  South-west  of 
England.  His  success  at  Rome  is  a  proof  that  some  Irish 
families  at  least  were  within  reach  of  literary  education  in  the 
fourth  century.  His  friend  and  teacher,  Celestius,  has  also 
been  claimed  as  an  Irishman,  but  Dr.  Healy  has  shown  that 
this  claim  is  perhaps  founded  upon  a  misconception.1 

"  The  influence  of  the  ancient  Irish  on  the  Continent," 
says  Dr.  Sigerson,  "  began  in  the  works  of  Sedulius, 
whose  '  Carmen  Paschale,'  published  in  the  fifth  century, 

1  "  Ireland's  Ancient  Schools  and  Scholars,"  p.  39.    I  find  Migne,  in  his 
note  on  Pelagius,  apparently  confounding  Scotia  with  Great  Britain. 


EARLY  USE   OF  LETTERS  107 

is  the  first  great  Christian  epic  worthy  of  the  name." 
Sedulius,  the  Virgil  of  theological  poetry,  flourished  in 
the  first  half  of  the  fifth  century,  and  seems  to  have 
studied  in  Gaul,  passed  into  Italy,  and  finally  resided  in 
Achaia  in  Greece,  which  he  seems  to  have  made  his 
home.  There  are  at  least  eight  Irish  Siadals  (in  Latin 
Sedulius,  in  English  Shiel)  commemorated  by  Colgan.  The 
strongest  evidence  of  Sedulius's  Irish  nationality  is  that  the 
Irish  geographer  Dicuil,  in  the  eighth  century,  quoting  some 
of  his  lines,  calls  him  noster  Sedulius.  John  of  Tritenheim, 
towards  the  close  of  the  fifteenth  century,  distinctly  calls  him 
an  Irishman  natlone  Scotus,  but  attributes  to  him  the  verses 
of  a  later  Sedulius.  Dr.  Sigerson,  by  a  clever  analysis  of  his 
verse-peculiarities  confirms  this  opinion.1 

In  the  "Tripartite  Life  of  St.  Patrick"  we  read  that  the 
druids  at  the  king's  court,  when  St.  Patrick  arrived  there, 
possessed  books,  and  when,  at  a  later  date,  St.  Patrick  deter- 
mined upon  revising  the  Brehon  law  code,  the  books  in 
which  it  was  written  down  were  laid  before  him.  That  there 
has  come  down  to  our  time  no  written  record  earlier  than  the 
seventh  or  eighth  century2  is  chiefly  due  to  the  enormous 
destruction  of  books  by  the  Danes  and  English.  The  same 
causes  produced  a  like  effect  in  Britain,  for  the  oldest  surviving 
British  MSS.  are  not  even  as  old  as  ours,  although  the  art  of 
writing  must  have  been  known  and  practised  there  since  the 
Roman  occupation. 

The  Irish  had,  however,  another  system  of  writing  which 

1  See  for  Dr.  Sigerson's  ingenious  argument  "Bards  of  the  Gael  and 
Gaul,"  Introduction,  p.  30. 

2  Except  perhaps  on  stone.    There  is  an  inscription  on  a  stone  in 
Galway,  "  Lie    Luguaedon  Mace  Lmenueh,"  for  a  facsimile  of  which 
see  O'Donovan's  grammar,  p.  411.    O'Donovan  says  it  was  set  up  over  a 
nephew  of  St.  Patrick's.    Mr.  Macalister  reads  it  no  doubt  correctly,  "  Lie 
Luguaedon  macci  Menueh."  This  is  probably  the  oldest  extant  inscription 
in  Roman  letters,  and  it  shows  that  the  old  Ogam  form  maqui  had  already 
changed  into  mac[c]i.     The  "c"  in  place  of  "q"  is  only  found  on  the 
later  Ogam  stones,  and  only  one  stone  is  found  to  read  "  maic." 


io8      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

they  themselves  invented.  This  was  the  celebrated  Ogam 
script,  consisting  of  a  number  of  short  lines,  straight  or  slant- 
ing,1 and  drawn  either  below,  above,  or  through  one  long 
stem-line,  which  stem-line  is  generally  the  angle  between  two 
sides  of  a  long  upright  rectangular  stone.  These  lines  repre- 
sented letters ;  and  over  two  hundred  stones  have  been  found 
inscribed  with  Ogam  writing.  It  is  a  remarkable  fact  that 
rude  as  this  device  for  writing  is,  it  has  been  applied  with 
considerable  skill,  and  is  framed  with  much  ingenuity.  For  in 
every  case  it  is  found  that  those  letters  which,  like  the  vowels, 
are  most  easily  pronounced,  are  also  in  Ogam  the  easiest  to 
inscribe,  and  the  simpler  sounds  are  represented  by  simpler 
characters  than  those  that  are  more  complex.  To  account  for 
the  philosophical  character  of  this  alphabet 2  "  than  which  no 

1  Thus  four  cuts  to  the  right  of  or  below  the  long  line  stand  for  S,  above 
it  they  mean  C,  passing  through  the  long  line  half  on  one  side  and  half  on 
the  other  they  mean  E.    These  straight  lines,  being  easily  cut  on  stone 
with  a  chisel,  continued  long  in  use.    The  long  line,  with  reference  to 
which  all  the  letters  are  drawn,  is  usually  the  right  angle  or  corner  of  the 
upright  stone  between  the  two  sides.    The  inscription  usually  begins  at 
the  left-hand  corner  of  the  stone  facing  the  reader  and  is  read  upwards, 
and  is  sometimes  continued  down  on  the  right-hand  angular  line  as  well. 
The  vowels  are  very  small  cuts  on  the  angle  of  the  stone,  but  much  larger 
than  points.    There  is  no  existing  book  written  in  Ogam,  but  various 
alphabets  of  it  have  been  preserved  in  the  Book  of  Ballymote,  and  some 
small  metal  articles  have  been  found  inscribed  with  it,  showing  that  its 
use  was  not  peculiar  to  pillar  stones. 

2  See  a  curious  monograph  by  Dr.  Ernst  Rethwisch  entitled,  "  Die 
Inschrift  von  Killeen  Cormac  und  der  Ursprung  der  Sprache,"  1886. 
"  Einfachere     Schriftzeichen    als    das     keltische     Alphabet    sind    nicht 
denkbar  .  .  .  die  Vocale  haben  die  einfachsten  Syinbole  und  unter  den 
Vocalen  haben  wieder  die  am  bequemsten  auszusprechenden  bequemer 
zu  machende  Zeichen  wie  die  Andern.    Unter  den  Consonanten,  hat  die 
Klasse    die    am    schwierigsten    gelingt  .  .  .  die    am    wenigsten    leicht 
einzuritzenden  Zeichen  :  die  Gaumenlaute."     He  is  greatly  struck  by  "  der 
so  verstandig  und  sachgemass  erscheinende  Trieb  dem  einfachsten  Laut 
das  einfachste  Symbol  zu  widmen."     "  Eine  Erklarung  [of  the  rational 
simplicity  of  the  Ogam  script]  ist  nur  moglich  wenn  man  annimmt  dass 
die  natiirliche  Begabung  der  Kelten,  der  praktische  auf  Einfachheit  und 
Beobachtungsgabe  beruhende  Sinn  viel  friiher  zu  einer  gewissen  Reife 
gediehen  sind,  als  bei  den  Indogermanischen  Verwandten"  (p.  29). 


EARLY   USE   OF  LETTERS  109 

• 

simpler  method  of  writing  is  imaginable,"  a  German,  Dr. 
Rethwisch,  who  examined  it  from  this  side,  concluded  that 
"the  natural  gifts  of  the  Celts  and  their  practical  genius  for 
simplicity  and  observation  ripened  up  to  a  certain  stage  far 
earlier  than  those  of  their  Indo-European  relations."  This 
statement,  however,  rests  upon  the  as  yet  unproved  assump- 
tion that  Ogam  writing  is  pre-Christian  and  pagan.  What 
is  of  more  interest  is  that  the  author  of  it  supposed  that  with 
one  or  two  changes  it  would  make  the  simplest  conceivable 
universal-alphabet  or  international  code  of  writing.  It  is  very 
strange  that  nearly  all  the  Irish  Ogam  stones  are  found  in  the 
south-west,  chiefly  in  the  counties  of  Cork  and  Kerry,  with 
a  few  scattered  over  the  rest  of  the  country — but  one  in  West 
Connacht,  and  but  one  or  two  at  the  most  in  Ulster. 
Between  twenty  and  thirty  more  have  been  found  in  Wales 
and  Devonshire,  and  one  or  two  even  farther  east,  thus  bear- 
ing witness  to  the  colonies  planted  by  the  Irish  marauders  in 
early  Britain,  for  Ogam  writing  is  peculiar  to  the  Irish  Gael 
and  only  found  where  he  had  settled.  Ten  stones  more  have 
fceen  found  in  Scotland,  probably  the  latest  in  date  of  any,  for 
some  of  these,  unlike  the  Irish  stones,  bear  Christian  symbols. 
Many  Ogams  have  been  easily  read,  thanks  to  the  key  con- 
tained in  the  Book  of  Ballymote  ;  thanks  also  to  the  fact  that 
one  or  two  Ogams  have  been  found  with  duplicates  inscribed 
in  Latin  letters.  But  many  still  defy  all  attempts  at  decipher- 
ing them,  though  numerous  efforts  have  been  made,  treating 
them  as  though  they  were  cryptic  ciphers,  which  they  were 
long  believed  to  be.  That  Ogam  was,  as  some  assert,  an 
early  cryptic  alphabet,  and  one  intended  to  be  read  only  by 
the  initiated,  is  both  in  face  of  the  numbers  of  such  inscrip- 
tions already  deciphered  and  in  the  face  of  the  many  instances 
recorded  in  our  oldest  sagas  of  its  employment,  an  absurd 
hypothesis.  It  is  nearly  always  treated  in  them  as  an  ordinary 
script  which  any  one  could  read.  It  may,  however,  have  been 
occasionally  used  in  later  times  in  a  cryptic  sense,  names  being 


i io     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

written  backwards  or  syllables  transposed,  but  this  was  certainly 
not  the  original  invention.  Some  of  the  latest  Ogam  pillars 
are  gravestones  of  people  who  died  so  late  as  the  year  600, 
but  what  proportion  of  them,  if  any,  date  from  before  the 
Christian  era  it  is  as  yet  impossible  to  tell.  Certain  it  is  that 
the  grammatical  forms  of  the  language  inscribed  upon  most  of 
them  are  vastly  older  than  those  of  the  very  oldest  manuscripts,1 
and  agree  with  those  of  the  old  Gaulish  linguistic  monuments. 
Cormac's  Glossary — a  work  of  the  ninth  or  tenth  century — 
the  ancient  sagas,  and  many  allusions  in  the  older  literature, 
would  seem  to  show  that  Ogam  writing  was  used  by  the 
pagan  Irish.  Cormac,  explaining  the  word  fe^  says  that  "  it 
was  a  wooden  rod  used  by  the  Gael  for  measuring  corpses 
and  graves,  and  that  this  rod  used  always  to  be  kept  in  the 
burial-places  of  the  heathen,  and  it  was  a  horror  to  every 
one  even  to  take  it  in  his  hand,  and  whatever  was  abominable 
to  them  they  (the  pagans)  used  to  inscribe  on  it  in  Ogam."2 
The  sagas  also  are  full  of  allusions  to  Ogam  writing.  In  the 
"  Tain  Bo  Chuailgne,"  which  probably  assumed  substantially 
its  present  shape  in  the  seventh  century,  we  are  told  how 
when  Cuchulain,  after  assuming  arms,  drove  into  Leinster  with 

1  As  Curd  and  maqi  for  the  genitives  of  Core  and  mac.    In  later  times 
the  genitive  ending  i,  became  incorporated  in  the  body  of  the  word, 
making  Cuirc  and  maic  in  the  MSS.,  which  latter  subsequently  became 
attenuated  still  further  into  the  modern  mic.    Another  very  common  and 
important  form  is  avi,  which  has  been  explained  as  from  a  nominative 
*avios  [for  (*p)avios],  Old  Irish  aue,  modern  ua  or  o.    Another  extra- 
ordinary feature  is  the  suffix  *gnos  =  cnos,  the  regular  patronymic  forma- 
tive of  the  Gaulish  inscriptions.    Another  important  word  is  muco,  genitive 
tnucot,  meaning  "descendant,"  but  in  some  cases  apparently  "chief." 
The  word  anm  or  even  ancm,  which  often  precedes  the  genitive  of  the 
proper  noun,  as  anm  meddugini,  has  not  yet  been  explained  or  accounted 
for.    All  these  examples  help  to  show  the  great  age  of  the  linguistic  ' 
monuments  preserved  in  Ogam. 

2  "Ocus  no  bid  in  flesc  sin  dogres  irelcib  nangente  ocus  bafuath  la  each  a 
gabail  inalaim  ocus  each  ni  ba  hadetchi  leo  dobertis  [lege  nobentis]  tria  | 
Ogam  innti,  i.e.  Agus  do  bhiodh  an  fleasg  sin  do  ghnath  i  reiligibh  na  ? 
ngente,  agus  budh  fuath,  le  each  a  gabhail  ann  a  laimh,  agus  gach  nidh 
budh  ghranna  leo  do  bhainidis  [ghearradaois]  tre  Ogham  innti." 


EARLY  USE  OF  LETTERS  in 

his  charioteer  and  came  to  the  dun  or  fort  of  the  three  sons 
of  Nechtan,  he  found  on  the  lawn  before  the  court  a  stone 
pillar,  around  which  was  written  in  Ogam  that  every  hero 
who  passed  thereby  was  bound  to  issue  a  challenge.  This  was 
clearly  no  cryptic  writing  but  the  ordinary  script,  meant  to  be 
read  by  every  one  who  passed.1  Cuchulain  in  the  same  saga 
frequently  cuts  Ogam  on  wands,  which  he  leaves  in  the  way 
of  Meve's  army.  These  are  always  brought  to  his  friend 
Fergus  to  read.  Perhaps  the  next  oldest  allusion  to  Ogam 
writing  is  in  the  thoroughly  pagan  "Voyage  of  Bran,"  which 
both  Zimmer  and  Kuno  Meyer  consider  to  have  been  com- 
mitted to  writing  in  the  seventh  century.  We  are  there  told 
that  Bran  wrote  the  fifty  or  sixty  quatrains  of  the  poem  in 
Ogam.  Again,  in  Cormac's  Glossary  2  we  find  a  story'  of  how 
Lomna  Finn  mac  Cool's  fool  (druth)  made  an  Ogam  and 
put  it  in  Finn's  way  to  tell  him  how  his  wife  had  been 
unfaithful  to  him.  A  more  curious  case  is  the  story  in  the 
Book  of  Leinster  of  Core's  flying  to  the  Court  of  King 
Feradach  in  Scotland.  Not  knowing  how  he  might  be 
received  he  hid  in  a  wood  near  by.  The  King's  poet,  how- 
ever, meets  him  and  recognises  him,  having  seen  him  before 
that  in  Ireland.  The  poet  notices  an  Ogam  on  the  prince's 
shield,  and  asks  him,  "  Who  was  it  that  befriended  you  with 
that  Ogam,  for  it  was  not  good  luck  which  he  designed  for 
you  ? "  "  Why,"  asked  the  prince,  "  what  does  it  contain  ? " 
"  What  it  contains,"  said  the  poet,  "  is  this — that  if  by  day 
you  arrive  at  the  Court  of  Feradach  the  king,  your  head  shall 
be  struck  off  before  night  ;  if  it  be  at  night  you  arrive  your 
head  shall  be  struck  off  before  morning."  3  This  Ogam  was 

1  See  Zimmer's  "  Summary  of  the  Tain  Bo  Chuailgne,"  Zeit.  f.  vgl., 
Sprachforschung,  1887,  p.  448. 

2  Under  the  word  ore  trcith. 

3  The  classical  reader  need  hardly  be  reminded  of  the  striking  resem- 
blance between  this  and  the  <7r//zara  \vypa  which,  according  to  Homer, 
Prcetus  gave  the  unsuspecting  Bellerophon  to  bring  to  the  King  of  Lycia, 

iv  Trivaict  TTTVKT^  Ovfio<j)06pa  TroXXa. 


ii2      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

apparently  readable  only  by  the  initiated,  for  the  prince  did  not 
himself  know  what  he  was  bearing  on  his  shield. 

All  ancient  Irish  literature,  then,  is  unanimous  in  attributing 
a  knowledge  of  Ogam  to  the  pre-Christian  Irish.  M.  d'Arbois 
de  Jubainville  seems  also  to  believe  in  its  pagan  antiquity,  for 
when  discussing  the  story  of  St.  Patrick's  setting  a  Latin 
alphabet  before  Fiach,  and  of  the  youth's  learning  to  read  the 
Psalms  within  the  following  four-and-twenty  hours,  he  remarks 
that  the  story  is  just  possible  since  Fiach  should  have  known 
the  Ogam  alphabet,  and  except  for  the  form  of  the  letters  it 
and  the  Latin  alphabet  were  the  same.1 

St.  Patrick,  too,  tells  us  in  his  "  Confession  "  how  after  his 
flight  from  Ireland  he  saw  a  man  coming  as  it  were  from  that 
country  with  innumerable  letters,  a  dream  that  would  scarcely 
have  visited  him  had  he  known  that  there  was  no  one  in 
Ireland  who  could  write  letters.2 

The  Ogam  alphabet,  however,  is  based  upon  the  Roman. 
Of  this  there  can  be  no  doubt,  for  it  contains  letters  which, 

1  The  "  alphabet "  laid  before  Fiacc,  however,  was  not  a  list  of  letters,  but 
a  kind  of  brief  catechism,  in  Latin  "  Elementa."   St.  Patrick  is  said  to  hav 
written  a  number  of  these  "  alphabets  "  with  his  own  hand. 

2  The  "  Confession  "  and  Epistles  attributed  to  St.  Patrick  are,  by  Whitle 
Stokes,  Todd,  Ussher,  and  almost  all  other  authorities,  considered  genuine 
Recently  J.  V.  Pflugk-Harttung,  in  an  article  in  the  "  Neuer  Heidelberge 
Jahrbuch,"  Jahrgang  Hi.,  Heft.  I.,  1893,  has  tried  to  show  by  interna 
evidence  that  the  "  Confession  "  and  Epistle,  especially  the  former,  are  a  littl 
later  than  St.  Patrick's  time,  and  he  relies  strongly  on  this  passage,  sayin 
that  it  is  difficult  to  imagine  how  St.  Patrick  came  by  the  idea  that 
man  could  bring  him  "  innumerable  letters  from  the  heathen  Ireland  o 
that  time,  where,  except  for  Ogams  and  inscribed  stones  (ausser  Ogham 
und  Skulpturzeicheri),  the  art  of  writing  was  as  yet  unknown."    But  seeing 
that  Christian  missionaries  were  almost  certainly  at  work  in  Munster  a 
early  as  the  third  century  this  contention  is  ridiculous.     It  is  noteworthy 
however,  that  even  this  critic  seems  to  believe  in  the  antiquity  of  the  Ogam 
characters.  As  to  his  main  contention  that  the  "  Confession  "  is  not  the  wori 
of  Patrick,  Jubainville  writes,  "  II  ne  m'a  pas  convaincu  "  (Revue  Celtique 
vol.  xiv.  p.  215),  and  M.  L.  Duchesne,  commenting  on  Zimmer's  view  of  St 
Patrick's  nebulousness,  writes,  "  Contestir  1'authenticite  de  la  Confession 
et  de  la  lettre  a  Coroticus  me  semble  tres  aventure"  (Ibid.,  vol.  xv.  p.  188] 
and  Thurneysen  also  entirely  refuses  his  credence. 


EARLY   USE   OF  LETTERS  113 

according  to  the  key,  represents  Q  (made  by  five  upright 
strokes  above  the  stem  line),  Z,  and  Y,  none  of  which  letters 
are  used  in  even  the  oldest  MSS.,  and  two  of  which  at  least  must 
have  been  borrowed  from  the  Romans.  The  most,  then,  that 
can  at  present  be  said  with  absolute  certainty  is,  as  Dr.  Whitley 
Stokes  cautiously  puts  it,  that  these  Ogam  inscriptions  and  the 
language  in  which  they  are  couched  are  "  enough  to  show  that 
some  of  the  Celts  of  these  islands  wrote  their  language  before 
the  fifth  century,  the  time  at  which  Christianity  is  supposed  to 
have  been  introduced  into  Ireland."  *  The  presence  of  these 
Roman  letters  never  used  by  the  Irish  on  vellum,  and  the 
absence  of  any  aspirated  letters  (which  abound  even  in  the 
oldest  vellum  MSS.)  are  additional  proofs  of  the  antiquity  of 
the  Ogam  alphabet. 

The  Irish  themselves  ascribed  the  invention  of  Ogam  to 
[the  god]  Ogma,  one  of  the  leading  Tuatha  De  Danann,2 
and  although  it  may  be,  as  Rhys  points  out,  philologically 
unsound  to  derive  Ogam  from  Ogma,  yet  there  appears  to  be 
an  intimate  connection  between  the  two  words,  and  Ogma 
may  well  be  derived  from  Ogam,  which  in  its  early  stage  may 
have  meant  fluency  or  learning  rather  than  letters.  Certainly 
there  cannot  be  any  doubt  that  Ogma,  the  Tuatha  De  Danann, 
was  the  same  as  the  Gaulish  god  Ogmios  of  whom  Lucian, 
that  pleasantest  of  Hellenes,  gives  us  an  account  so  delightfully 
graphic  that  it  is  worth  repeating  in  its  entirety  as  another 
proof  of  what  I  shall  have  more  to  speak  about  later  on,  the 
solidarity — to  use  a  useful  Gallicism — of  the  Irish  and  the 
Continental  Gauls. 

1  Preface  to  "Three  Old  Irish  Glossaries,"  p.  Iv.    Zeuss  had  already 
commented  on  the  Ogams  found  in  the  St.  Gall  codex  of  Priscian,  and 
written  thus  of    them,   "  Figurae  ergo  vel  potius    liniae    ogamicae    non 
diversse  ab  his  quae  notantur  a  grammaticis  hibernicis,  in  usu  jam  in  hoc 
vetusto  codice,  quidni  etiarn  inde  a  longinquis  temporibus?"    There  are 
eight  Ogam  sentences  in  a  St.  Gall  MS.  of  the  ninth  century  which  have 
been  published  by  Nigra  in  his  "  Manoscritto  irlandese  di  S.  Gallo." 

2  See  above,  p.  52,  note.     See  O'Donovan's  Grammar,  p.  xxviii,  for  the 
original  of  the  passage  from  the  Book  of  Ballymote. 

H 


H4      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

"The  Celts," *  says  Lucian,  "call  Heracles  in  the  language  of  their 
country  Ogmios,  and  they  make  very  strange  representations  of  the 
god.  With  them  he  is  an  extremely  old  man  with  a  bald  forehead 
and  his  few  remaining  hairs  quite  grey ;  his  skin  is  wrinkled  and 
embrowned  by  the  sun  to  that  degree  of  swarthiness  which  is  cha- 
racteristic of  men  who  have  grown  old  in  a  seafaring  life  ;  in  fact, 
you  would  fancy  him  rather  to  be  a  Charon  or  Japetus,  one  of  the 
dwellers  in  Tartarus,  or  anybody  rather  than  Heracles.  But  although 
he  is  of  this  description  he  is  nevertheless  attired  like  Heracles,  for 
he  has  on  him  the  lion's  skin,  and  he  has  a  club  in  the  right  hand  ; 
he  is  duly  equipped  with  a  quiver,  and  his  left  hand  displays  a  bow 
stretched  out,  in  these  respects  he  is  quite  Heracles.2  It  struck  me 
then  that  the  Celts  took  such  liberties  with  the  appearance  of 
Heracles  in  order  to  insult  the  gods  of  the  Greeks  and  avenge 
themselves  on  him  in  their  painting,  because  he  once  made  a  raid 
on  their  territory,  when  in  search  of  the  herds  of  Geryon  he  harassed 
most  of  the  Western  peoples.  I  have  not  yet,  however,  mentioned 
the  most  whimsical  part  of  the  picture,  for  this  old  man  Heracles 
draws  after  him  a  great  number  of  men  bound  by  their  ears,  and  the 
bonds  are  slender  cords  wrought  of  gold  and  amber,  like  necklaces 
of  the  most  beautiful  make  ;  and  although  they  are  dragged  on  by 
such  weak  ties  they  never  try  to  run  away,  though  they  could  easily 
do  it,  nor  do  they  at  all  resist  or  struggle  against  them,  planting  their 
feet  in  the  ground  and  throwing  their  weight  back  in  the  direction 
contrary  to  that  in  which  they  are  being  led.  Quite  the  reverse, 
they  follow  with  joyful  countenance  in  a  merry  mood,  and  praising 
him  who  leads  them,  pressing  on,  one  and  all,  and  slackening  their 
chains  in  their  eagerness  to  proceed  ;  in  fact,  they  look  like  men 
who  would  be  grieved  should  they  be  set  free.  But  that  which 
seemed  to  me  the  most  absurd  thing  of  all  I  will  not  hesitate  also  to 
tell  you  :  the  painter,  you  see,  had  nowhere  to  fix  the  ends  of  the 
cords  since  the  right  hand  of  the  god  held  the  club  and  his  left  the 


1  Translated  by  Rhys  in  his  "  Hibbert  Lectures,"  from  Bekker's  editioi 
No.  7,  and  Dindorf's,  No.  55. 

2  The  Gauls  assimilated  their  pantheon  to  those  of  the  Greeks  am 
Romans  in  so  far  as  they  could,  and  as  the  Greek  gods  are  by  no  mear 
always  the  equivalents  of  the  Roman  gods  with  whom  popular  opinic 
equated  them,  still  less  were  of  course  the  Gaulish ;  and  this  is  a  g( 
case  in  point,  for  Ogmios  has  evidently  nothing  of  a  Hercules  aboi 
him,  though  the  Gauls  tried  to  make  him  the  equivalent  of  Hercules  b] 
giving  him  the  classical  club  and  lion's  skin,  yet  his  attributes  are  per- 
fectly different. 


EARLY  USE  OF  LETTERS  115 

bow  ;  so  he  pierced  the  tip  of  his  tongue  and  represented  the  people 
as  drawn  on  from  it,  and  the  god  turns  a  smiling  countenance 
towards  those  whom  he  is  leading.  Now  I  stood  a  long  time  look- 
ing at  these  things  and  wondered,  perplexed  and  indignant.  But 
a  certain  Celt  standing  by,  who  knew  something  about  our  ways, 
as  he  showed  by  speaking  good  Greek — a  man  who  was  quite 
a  philosopher  I  take  it  in  local  matters — said  to  me  :  '  Stranger, 
I  will  tell  you  the  secret  of  the  painting,  for  you  seem  very 
much  troubled  about  it.  We  Celts  do  not  consider  the  power 
of  speech  to  be  Hermes  as  you  Greeks  do,  but  we  represent  it  by 
means  of  Heracles,  because  he  is  much  stronger  than  Hermes.  Nor 
should  you  wonder  at  his  being  represented  as  an  old  man,  for  the 
power  of  words  is  wont  to  show  its  perfection  in  the  aged  ;  for  your 
poets  are,  no  doubt,  right  when  they  say  that  the  thoughts  of  young 
men  turn  with  every  wind,  and  that  age  has  something  wiser  to  tell 
us  than  youth.  And  so  it  is  that  honey  pours  from  the  tongue  of  that 
Nestor  of  yours,  and  the  Trojan  orators  speak  with  a  voice  of  the 
delicacy  of  the  lily,  a  voice  well  covered,  so  to  say,  with  bloom,  for 
the  bloom  of  flowers,  if  my  memory  does  not  fail  me,  has  the  term 
lilies  applied  to  it.  So  if  this  old  man  Heracles  (the  power  of  speech) 
draws  men  after  him,  tied  to  his  tongue  by  their  ears,  you  have  no 
reason  to  wonder ;  as  you  must  be  aware  of  the  close  connection 
between  the  ears  and  the  tongue.  Nor  is  there  any  injury  done  him 
by  the  latter  being  pierced  ;  for  I  remember,  said  he,  learning,  while 
among  you,  some  comic  iambics  to  the  effect  that  all  chattering 
fellows  have  the  tongue  bored  at  the  tip.  In  a  word,  we  Celts  are 
of  opinion  that  Heracles  himself  performed  everything  by  the 
power  of  words,  as  he  was  a  wise  fellow,  and  that  most  of  his  com- 
pulsion was  effected  by  persuasion.  His  weapons,  I  take  it,  were  his 
utterances,  which  are  sharp  and  well-aimed,  swift  to  pierce  the 
mind,  and  you  too  say  that  words  have  wings.'  Thus  far  the 
Celt." 


We  see,  then,  that  the  Irish  legend  that  it  was  Ogma  (who 
is  also  said  to  have  been  skilled  in  dialects  and  poetry)  who 
invented  the  Ogam  alphabet,  so  useful  as  a  medium  through 
which  to  convey  language,  is  quite  borne  out  by  the  account 
given  to  Lucian  of  the  Gaulish  god  Ogmios,  the  eloquent  old 
man  whose  language  was  endowed  with  so  great  a  charm  that 
he  took  his  hearers  captive.  He  turns,  says  Lucian,  towards 
his  willing  captives  with  a  smiling  face,  and  the  Irish  Ogma, 


ii6     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

too,  is  called  Ogma  "  of  the  shining  countenance."  x  Nor 
does  the  Gaul  in  dressing  Ogma  as  a  Hercules  appear  to  have 
acted  altogether  whimsically,  because  not  only  is  Ogma  skilled 
in  poetry  and  dialects  and  the  inventor  of  Ogam,  but  he  is 
also  all  through  the  battle  of  Moytura  actually  depicted  as  the 
strong  man  of  the  De  Danann,-  strong  enough  to  push  a  stone 
which  eighty  pair  of  oxen  could  not  have  moved. 

The  modern  Irish  names  for  books,  reading,  writing,  letters, 
pens,  and  vellum,  are  all  derived  from  the  Latin.2  But  there 
seem  to  have  been  other  names  in  use  to  designate  the  early 
writing  materials  of  the  Irish.  These  were  the  Taibhli 
Fileadh,  "  poets'  tablets,"  and  Tamhlorg  Fileadh,  which  is 
translated  by  O'Curry  as  poets'  "  headless  staves."  This 
latter  word,  whatever  may  be  the  exact  meaning  of  it,  is  at 
least  pure  Gaelic.  We  read  in  the  "  Colloquy  of  the  Ancients" 
that  St.  Patrick  began  to  feel  a  little  uneasy  at  the  delight 
with  which  he  listened  to  the  stories  of  the  ancient  Fenians, 
and  in  his  over-scrupulous  sanctity  he  feared  it  might  be 
wrong  to  extract  such  pleasure  from  merely  mundane  narra- 
tions. Accordingly  he  consulted  his  two  guardian  angels  on 
the  matter,  but  received  an  emphatic  response  from  both  of 
them,  not  only  to  the  effect  that  there  was  no  harm  in  listening 
to  the  stories  themselves,  but  actually  desiring  him  to  get 
them  written  down  "  in  poets'  tamhlorgs  and  in  the  words  of 
ollavs,  for  it  will  be  a  rejoicing  to  numbers  and  to  the  good 
people  to  the  end  of  time,  to  listen  to  those  stories."  3  An 

1  Grian-aineach,  or  "  of  the  sunny  countenance."     See  O'Curry  MS. 
Mat.,  p.  249.    Ogma  was,  according  to  some  accounts,  brother  of  Breas, 
who  held  the  regency  amongst  the  Tuatha  De  Danann  for  seven  years, 
while  Nuada  was  getting  his  silver  hand. 

2  Leabhra,  leigheadh,  sgriobhadh,  litreacha,  pinn,  meamram. 

3  "  A  anam  a  naem-chleirigh  ni  mo  ina  trian  a  seel  innisit  na  senlaeich  ut, 
or  daig  dermait  ocus  dichhuimne.    Ocus  sgribthar  let-sa  i  tamlorgaibh 
filed  ocus  i  mbriathraib  ollamhan,  or  bud  gairdiugad  do  dronguibh  ocus  do 
degdainib  deirid  aimsire  eisdecht  fris  na  scelaib  sin"  ("  Agallamh,"  p.  101. 

Silva  Gadelica,"  vol.  ii.)  O'Grady  has  here  translated  it  by  "  tabular  staffs." 
Tdibhli  is  evidently  a  Latin  loan  word,  tabdla.  The  thing  to  be  remem- 
bered is  that  Ogam  writing  on  staves  appears  to  be  alluded  to. 


EARLY   USE   OF  LETTERS  117 

ancient  passage  from  the  Brehon  Laws  prescribes  that  a  poet 
may  carry  a  tabhall-lorg  or  tablet-staff,  and  O'Curry  acutely 
suggests  that  these  so-called  tablet-staves  were  of  the  nature  of 
a  fan  which  could  be  closed  up  in  the  shape  of  a  square  stick, 
upon  the  lines  and  angles  of  which  the  poet  wrote  in  Ogam. 
We  can  well  imagine  the  almost  superstitious  reverence  which 
in  rude  times  must  have  attached  itself,  and  which  as  we  know 
did  attach  itself,  to  the  man  who  could  carry  about  in  his 
hand  the  whole  history  and  genealogy  of  his  race,  and  pro- 
bably the  catchwords  of  innumerable  poems  and  the  skeletons 
of  highly-prized  narratives.  It  was  probably  through  these 
means  that  the  genealogies  of  which  I  have  spoken  were  so 
accurately  transmitted  and  kept  from  the  third  or  fourth 
century,  and  possibly  from  a  still  earlier  period. 

Amongst  many  other  accounts  of  pre-Christian  writing 
there  is  one  so  curious  that  it  is  worth  giving  here  in  extenso.* 

THE  STORY  OF  BAILE  MAC  BUAIN,  THE  SWEET-SPOKEN. 

"  Buain's  only  son  was  Baile.3  He  was  specially  beloved  by 
Aillinn,2  the  daughter  of  Lewy,3  son  of  Fergus  Fairge — but  some  say 
she  was  the  daughter  of  Owen,  son  of  Dathi — and  he  was  specially 
beloved  not  of  her  only,  but  of  every  one  who  ever  heard  or  saw 
him,  on  account  of  his  delightful  stories. 

"  Now  Baile  and  Aillinn  made  an  appointment  to  meet  at  Rosnaree, 
on  the  banks  of  the  Boyne  in  Bregia.  And  he  came  from  Emania 
in  the  north  to  meet  her,  passing  over  Slieve  Fuad  and  Muirthuimhne 
to  Traigh  mBaile  (Dundalk),  and  here  he  and  his  troops  unyoked 
their  chariots,  sent  their  horses  out  to  pasture,  and  gave  themselves 
up  to  pleasure  and  happiness. 

"  And  while  they  were  there  they  saw  a  horrible  spectral  personage 
coming  towards  them  from  the  South.  Vehement  were  his  steps  and 
his  rapid  progress.  The  way  he  sped  over  the  earth  might  be  com- 

1  O'Curry  found  this  piece  in  the  MS.  marked  H.  3.  i8in  Trinity  College, 
Dublin,  and  has  printed  it  at  page  472  of  his  MS.  Materials.     Kuno  Meyer 
has  also  edited  it  from  a  MS.  in  the  British  Museum,  full  of  curious  word- 
equivalents  or  Kennings.    ($ee  "  Revue  Celtique,"  vol.  xiii.  p.  221.    See 
also  a  fragment  of  the  same  story  in  Kuno  Meyer's  "  Hibernica  Minora," 
p.  84.) 

2  Pronounced  "  Bal-a,"  and  "  Al-yinn."  3  jn  Irish,  Lughaidh. 


ii8     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

pared  to  the  darting  of  a  hawk  down  a  cliff  or  to  wind  from  off  the 
green  sea,  and  his  left  was  towards  the  land  [i.e.,  he  came  from  the 
south  along  the  shore]. 

" '  Go  meet  him/  said  Baile,  '  and  ask  him  where  he  goes,  or 
whence  he  comes,  or  what  is  the  cause  of  his  haste.' 

"  '  From  Mount  Leinster  I  come,  and  I  go  back  now  to  the  North, 
to  the  mouth  of  the  river  Bann ;  and  I  have  no  news  but  of  the 
daughter  of  Lewy,  son  of  Fergus,  who  had  fallen  in  love  with  Baile 
mac  Buain,  and  was  coming  to  meet  him.  But  the  youths  of  Leinster 
overtook  her,  and  she  died  from  being  forcibly  detained,  as  Druids 
and  fair  prophets  had  prophesied,  for  they  foretold  that  they  would 
never  meet  in  life,  but  that  they  would  meet  after  death,  and  not 
part  for  ever.  There  is  my  news,'  and  he  darted  away  from  them 
like  a  blast  of  wind  over  the  green  sea,  and  they  were  not  able  to 
detain  him. 

"  When  Baile  heard  this  he  fell  dead  without  life,  and  his  tomb 
and  his  rath  were  raised,  and  his  stone  set  up,  and  his  funeral  games 
were  performed  by  the  Ultonians. 

"  And  a  yew  grew  up  through  his  grave,  and  the  form  and  shape 
of  Baile's  head  was  visible  on  the  top  of  it— whence  the  place  is 
called  Baile's  Strand  [now  Dundalk]. 

"  Afterwards  the  same  man  went  to  the  South  to  where  the  maiden 
Aillinn  was,  and  went  into  her  grianan  or  sunny  chamber. 

"  *  Whence  comes  the  man  whom  we  do  not  know  ? '  said  the 
maiden. 

" '  From  the  northern  half  of  Erin,  from  the  mouth  of  the  Bann  I 
come,  and  I  go  past  this  to  Mount  Leinster.' 

"  '  You  have  news  ? '  said  the  maiden. 

"  '  I  have  no  news  worth  mentioning  now,  only  I  saw  the  Ultonians 
performing  the  funeral  games  and  digging  the  rath,  and  setting  up 
the  stone,  and  writing  the  name  of  Baile  mac  Buain,  the  royal  heir 
of  Ulster,  by  the  side  of  the  strand  of  Baile,  who  died  while  on  his 
way  to  meet  a  sweetheart  and  a  beloved  woman  to  whom  he  had 
given  affection,  for  it  was  not  fated  for  them  to  mee£  in  life,  or  for 
one  of  them  to  see  the  other  living,'  and  he  darted  out  after  telling 
the  evil  news. 

"  And  Aillinn  fell  dead  without  life,  and  her  tomb  was  raised,  etc. 
And  an  apple  tree  grew  through  her  grave  and  became  a  great  tree 
at  the  end  of  seven  years,  and  the  shape  of  Aillinn's  head  was  upon 
its  top. 

"  Now  at  the  end  of  seven  years  poets  and  prophets  and  visioners 
cut  down  the  yew  which  was  over  the  grave  of  Baile,  and  they  made 
a  poet's  tablet  of  it,  and  they  wrote  the  visions  and  the  espousals  and 


EARLY   USE   OF  LETTERS  119 

the  loves  and  the  courtships  of  Ulster  in  it.  [The  apple  tree  which 
grew  over  the  grave  of  Aillinn  was  also  cut  down]  and  in  like 
manner  the  courtships  of  Leinster  were  written  in  it. 

"  There  came  a  November  eve  long  afterwards,  and  a  festival  was 
made  to  celebrate  it  by  Art,  the  son  of  Conn  [of  the  Hundred  Battles, 
High-king  of  Ireland],  and  the  professors  of  every  science  came  to 
that  feast  as  was  their  custom,  and  they  brought  their  tablets  with 
them.  And  these  tablets  also  came  there,  and  Art  saw  them,  and 
when  he  saw  them  he  asked  for  them  ;  and  the  two  tablets  were 
brought  and  he  held  them  in  his  hands  face  to  face.  Suddenly  the 
one  tablet  of  them  sprang  upon  the  other,  and  they  became  united 
the  same  as  a  woodbine  round  a  twig,  and  it  was  not  possible  to 
separate  them.  And  they  were  preserved  like  every  other  jewel  in 
the  treasury  at  Tara  until  it  was  burned  by  Dunlang,  son  of  Enna, 
at  the  time  he  burnt  the  Princesses  at  Tara,  as  has  been  said 

'  The  apple  tree  of  noble  Aillinn, 
The  yew  of  Baile — small  inheritance — 
Though  they  are  introduced  into  poems 
Unlearned  people  do  not  understand  them.' 

and  Ailbhe,  daughter  of  Cormac,  grandson  of  Conn  [of  the  Hundred 
Battles]  said  too 

*  What  I  liken  Lumluine  to 
Is  to  the  Yew  of  Baile's  rath, 
What  I  liken  the  other  to 
Is  to  the  Apple  Tree  of  Aillinn.' " 

So  far  this  strange  tale.  But  poetic  as  it  is,  it  yields — 
unlike  most — its  chief  value  when  rationalised,  for  as  O 'Curry 
remarks,  it  was  apparently  invented  to  account  for  some  in- 
scribed tablets  in  the  reign  of  King  Art  in  the  second  century, 
which  had — as  we  ourselves  have  seen  in  the  case  of  so 
many  leaves  of  very  old  manuscripts  at  this  day — become 
fastened  to  each  other,  so  that  they  clung  inextricably  together 
and  could  not  be  separated. 

Now  the  massacre  of  the  Princesses  at  Tara  happened, 
according  to  the  "  Four  Masters,"  in  the  year  241,  when  the 
tablets  were  burnt.  Hence  one  of  two  things  must  be  the 
case  ;  the  story  must  either  have  originated  before  that  date  to 
account  for  the  sticking  together  of  the  tablets,  or  else  some 


120      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

one  must  have  invented  it  long  afterwards,  that  is,  must, 
without  any  apparent  cause,  have  invented  a  story  out  of  his 
own  head,  as  to  how  there  were  once  on  a  time  two  tablets 
made  of  trees  which  once  grew  on  two  tombs  which  were  once 
fastened  together  before  Art,  son  of  Conn,  and  which  were 
soon  afterwards  unfortunately  burnt.  A  supposition  which, 
considering  there  were  then,  ex  hypothesi,  no  adhering  tablets 
to  prompt  the  invention,  appears  at  first  sight  improbable. 

Brash,  who  made  personal  examination  of  almost  every 
Ogam  known  to  exist,  and  whose  standard  work  on  the 
subject  reproduces  most  of  the  inscriptions  discovered  up  to 
the  date  of  writing,  was  of  opinion  that  no  Ogam  monument 
had  anything  Christian  about  it,  and  that  if  any  Christian 
symbol  were  discovered  on  an  Ogam  stone,  it  must  be  of  later 
date  than  the  Ogam  writing.  Dr.  Graves,  however,  has 
since  shown  that  Ogam  was  in  some  few  cases  at  least  used 
over  the  graves  of  Christians  ;  and  he  believes  that  all  Ogam 
writing  is  really  post-Christian,  despite  the  absence  of  Christian 
emblems  on  the  stones,  and  that  it  belongs  to  a  comparatively 
modern  period — "  in  fact,  for  the  most  part,  to  a  time  between 
the  fifth  and  seventh  century." x  Brash's  great  work  was 
supplemented  by  Sir  Samuel  Ferguson's,  and  since  that  time 
Professor  Rhys2  and  Dr.  Whitley  Stokes  have  thrown  upon 
the  inscriptions  themselves  all  the  light  that  the  highest 
critical  acumen  equipped  with  the  completest  philological 
training  could  do,  and  have,  to  quote  Mr.  Macalister, 
"  between  them  reduced  to  order  the  confusion  which  almost 
seemed  to  warrant  the  cryptical  theories,  and  have  thereby 
raised  Ogam  inscriptions  from  the  position  of  being  mere 
learned  playthings  to  a  place  of  the  highest  philological  im- 
portance, not  only  in  Celtic  but  in  Indo-European  epigraphy." 

1  "  Proceedings  of  the  Royal  Irish  Academy,"  May,  1894. 

2  See  "  Proceedings  of  the  Society  of  Antiquaries  of  Scotland,"  vol.  xxvi. 
p.  263. 


EARLY   USE   OF  LETTERS  121 

He  himself — the  latest  to  deal  with  the  subject — waves  for  the 
present  as  "  difficult — perhaps  in  some  measure  insoluble  " — 
all  "  questions  of  the  time,  place,  and  manner  of  the  develop- 
ment of  the  Ogham  script."  *  Rhys  has  traced  in  certain  of 
the  inscriptions  the  influence  exercised  on  the  spoken  language 
of  the  Celtic  people  by  an  agglutinating  pre-Celtic  tongue.2 
This  gives  us  a  glimpse  at  the  pre-Aryan  languages  of  the 
British  Isles,  which  is  in  the  highest  degree  interesting. 

To  me  it  seems  probable  that  the  Irish  discovered  the  use  of 
letters  either  through  trade  with  the  Continent  or  through  the 
Romanised  Britons,  at  any  time  from  the  first  or  second  century 
onward.  But  how  or  why  they  invented  the  Ogam  alphabet, 
instead  of  using  Roman  letters,  or  else  Greek  ones  like  the 
Gauls,  is  a  profound  mystery.  One  thing  is  certain,  namely, 
that  the  Ogam  alphabet — at  whatever  time  invented — is  a 
possession  peculiar  to  the  Irish  Gael,  and  only  to  be  found 
where  he  made  his  settlements. 

1  "  Studies  in  Irish  Epigraphy,"  London,  1897,  part  i.,  by  R.  A.  Stewart 
Macalister,  who  gives  a  most  lucid  study  of  the  Ogam  inscriptions  in  the 
Barony  of  Corcaguiney  and  of  a  few  more,  with  a  clear  and  interesting 
preface  on  the  Ogam  words  and  case-endings. 

3  It  is  thus  he  explains  such  Ogam  forms  as  "  Ere  maqi  maqi-Ercias," 
i.e.,  [the  stone]  of  Ere,  son  of,  etc.  But  "  Ere  "  is  nominative,  "  maqi  "  is 
genitive,  hence  "  Ere  maqi "  must  be  looked  upon  as  one  word,  agglu- 
tinated as  it  were,  in  which  the  genitive  ending  of  the  "maqi"  answers 
for  both.  As  a  rule,  however,  the  name  of  the  interred  is  in  the  genitive 
case  in  apposition  to  "maqi." 


CHAPTER  XII 

EARLY    IRISH    CIVILISATION 

IT  has  been  frequently  assumed,  especially  by  English  writers, 
that  the  pre-historic  Irish,  because  of  their  remoteness  from 
the  Continent,  must  have  been  ruder,  wilder,  and  more  un- 
civilised than  the  inhabitants  of  Great  Britain.  But  such  an 
assumption  is — to  say  nothing  of  our  literary  remains — in  no 
way  borne  out  by  the  results  of  archaeological  research.  The 
contrary  rather  appears  to  be  the  case,  that  in  point  of  wealth, 
artistic  feeling,  and  workmanship,  the  Irish  of  the  Bronze  Age 
surpassed  the  inhabitants  of  Great  Britain. 

When  we  read  such  accounts  as  that,  for  example,  in  the 
Book  of  Ballymote,  of  Cormac  mac  Art,  taking  his  seat  at  the 
assembly  in  Tara,  all  covered  with  gold  and  jewels,  we  must 
not  set  it  down  to  the  perfervid  imagination  of  the  chronicler 
without  first  consulting  what  Irish  archaeology  has  to  say 
upon  the  point.  The  appearance  of  Cormac  (king  of  Ireland 
in  the  third  century,  and  perhaps  greatest  of  pre-Christian 
monarchs),  is  thus  described.  "Beautiful,"  says  the  writer, 
quoting  probably  from  ancient  accounts  now  lost,  "was  the 
appearance  of  Cormac  in  that  assembly,  flowing  and  slightly 
curling  was  his  golden  hair.  A  red  buckler  with  stars  and 

animals  of  gold  and  fastenings  of  silver  upon  him.     A  crimson 
122 


EARLY  IRISH  CIVILISATION  123 

cloak  in  wide  descending  folds  around  him,  fastened  at  his 
neck  with  precious  stones.  A  torque  of  gold  around  his 
neck.  A  white  shirt  with  a  full  collar,  and  intertwined  with 
red  gold  thread  upon  him.  A  girdle  of  gold,  inlaid  with 
precious  stones,  was  around  him.  Two  wonderful  shoes  of 
gold,  with  golden  loops  upon  his  feet.  Two  spears  with 
golden  sockets  in  his  hands,  with  many  rivets  of  red  bronze. 
And  he  was  himself,  besides,  symmetrical  and  beautiful  of  form, 
without  blemish  or  reproach."  The  abundance  of  gold  orna- 
ment which  Cormac  is  here  represented  as  wearing,  is  no 
mere  imagination  of  the  writer's.  It  is  founded  upon  the 
undoubted  fact  that  of  all  countries  in  the  West  of  Europe 
Ireland  was  pre-eminent  for  its  wealth  in  gold.  How  much 
wealthier  was  Ireland  than  Great  Britain  may  be  imagined 
from  the  fact  that  while  the  collection  in  the  British  Museum 
of  pre-historic  gold  from  England,  Scotland,  and  Wales 
together  amounted  a  couple  of  years  ago  to  some  three  dozen 
ounces,  that  in  the  Royal  Irish  Academy  in  Dublin  weighs  five 
hundred  and  seventy  ounces.  And  yet  the  collection  in  the 
Academy  contains  only  a  small  part  of  the  gold-finds  made  in 
Ireland,  for  before  1861,  when  the  new  law  about  treasure- 
trove  came  into  force,  great  numbers  of  gold  objects  are  known 
to  have  been  sold  to  the  goldsmiths  and  melted  down.  The 
wealth  of  Ireland  in  gold — some  of  it  found  and  smelted  in  the 
Wicklow  mountains1 — must  have  at  an  early  period  deter- 

1  In  the  Irish  Annals  gold  is  said  to  have  been  first  smelted  in  Leinster. 
As  late  as  the  last  century  native  gold  was  discovered  on  the  confines  of 
Wicklow  and  Wexford,  and  nuggets  of  22,  18,  9,  and  7  ounces  are 
recorded  as  having  been  found  there.  Mr.  Coffey  quotes  a  most  interesting 
account  by  a  Mr.  Weaver,  director  of  the  works  established  there  by  the  Irish 
Government  before  the  Union  to  look  for  gold.  "The  discovery  of  native 
gold  in  Ballinvally  stream,  at  Croghan  Kinshella,"  says  Mr.  Weaver,  "  was 
at  first  kept  secret,  but  being  divulged,  almost  the  whole  population  of  the 
immediate  neighbourhood  flocked  in  to  gather  so  rich  a  harvest,  actually 
neglecting  at  the  time  the  produce  of  their  own  fields.  This  happened  about 
the  autumn  of  the  year  1796,  when  several  hundreds  of  people  might  be 
seen  daily  assembled  digging  and  searching  for  gold  in  the  banks  and  bed 
of  the  stream.  Considerable  quantities  were  thus  collected  ;  this  being  as 


124     LITERARY  HISTORY   OF  IRELAND 

mined  continental  trade  in  its  direction,  and  we  have  seen  that 
Tacitus  reported  its  harbours  as  being  better  known  through 
trade  than  those  of  Great  Britain,  or,  on  the  most  unfavour- 
able reading  of  the  passage,  as  being  "  known  by  commerce 
and  merchants."1  This  is  also  borne  out  by  archaeologists. 
Professor  Montelius,  who  has  traced  a  close  connection  in 
pre-historic  times  between  Scandinavia  and  the  West  of 
Europe,2  regards  much  of  the  pre-historic  gold  found  in  the 
northern  countries  as  Irish.  Speaking  of  certain  gold  orna- 
ments found  in  Fiinen,  which  show,  according  to  him,  marked 
Irish  influence,  he  writes  :  "  Gold  ornaments  like  these  have 
not  been  discovered  elsewhere  in  Scandinavia,  while  a  great 
number  of  similar  ornaments  have  been  found  in  the  British 
Isles,  especially  in  Ireland,  whose  wealth  of  gold  in  the  Bronze 
Age  is  amazing."  Again  he  writes,  "  As  certain  of  the  gold 

it  subsequently  proved  the  most  productive  spot  ;  and  the  populace 
remained  in  undisturbed  possession  of  the  place  for  nearly  six  weeks, 
when  Government  determined  to  commence  active  operations.  .  .  . 
Regular  stream  works  were  soon  established,  and  up  to  the  unhappy  time 
of  the  rebellion  in  May,  1798,  when  the  works  were  destroyed,  Government 
had  been  fully  reimbursed  its  advances  ;  the  produce  of  the  undertaking 
having  defrayed  its  own  expenses  and  left  a  surplus  in  hand."  The  total 
amount  of  gold  collected  from  this  place  in  the  last  hundred  years  is 
valued  at  about  £30,000.  This  particular  spot  had  been  probably  overlooked, 
as  Mr.  Coffey  remarks,  by  the  searchers  of  earlier  days,  but  no  doubt  other 
auriferous  streams  in  the  Wicklow  mountains  had  given  up  their  gold 
long  since  in  pre-historic  times  to  the  ancient  workers.  (See  Coffey's 
"  Origins  of  Pre-historic  Ornament  in  Ireland,"  p.  40.)  Dr.  Frazer,  on  the 
other  hand,  does  not  believe  that  any  great  part  of  the  gold  found  in 
Ireland  is  indigenous,  and  talks  of  Spain  and  South  Russia,  and  gold 
plundered  from  Britain.  But  if  this  be  the  case,  what  an  enormous  pre- 
historic trade  Ireland  must  have  carried  on,  or  what  a  powerful  invader 
she  must  have  been  to  come  by  such  quantities  of  gold  !  (So?  Dr.  Frazer's 
paper  in  R.  I.  A.  Proceedings,  May,  1896).  He  has  since  supplemented 
this  by  another  in  the  Journal  of  the  Royal  Society  of  Antiquaries  in 
which  he  leans  to  the  opinion  that  the  Roman  aurei,  the  coins  plundered 
from  the  Britons,  were  the  real  source  of  Irish  gold. 

1  See  above,  p.  21,  note  3. 

2  "  Verbindungen  zwischen  Skandinavien  und  dem  westlichen  Europa 
vor  Christi  Geburt"  ("  Archiv  fur  Anthropologie,"  vol.  xix.,  quoted  by  Mr. 
George  Coffey  in  his  "  Origins  of  Pre-historic  Ornament  in  Ireland,"  p.  63). 


EARLY  IRISH  CIVILISATION  125 

objects  found  in  Denmark  have  been  introduced  demonstrably 
from  the  British  Islands,  probably  from  Ireland,  the  thought 
is  obvious — is  not  a  great  part  of  the  other  gold  objects  found 
in  Southern  Scandinavia  also  of  Irish  origin,  and  of  the 
Bronze  Age  there  ?  .  .  .  for  this  island  [Ireland]  was,  during 
the  Bronze  Age,  one  of  the  lands  of  Europe  richest  in  gold." 
"No  other  country  in  Europe  possesses  so  much  manufactured 
gold  belonging  to  early  and  mediaeval  times,"  writes  Mr. 
Ernest  Smith.1 

It  is  true  that  the  Irish  Celts,  despite  their  mineral  wealth, 
never  minted  coin,  a  want  which  has  been  adduced  to  prove 
a  lack  of  civilisation  on  their  part.  But,  as  Mr.  Coffey  points 
out,  coinage  is  a  comparatively  late  invention  ;  the  Egyptians 
— for  all  their  civilisation — never  possessed  a  native  coinage, 
and  even  such  ancient  trading  cities  as  Carthage  and  Gades  did 
not  strike  coins  until  a  late  period.  "  A  little  reflection,"  says 
Professor  Ridgeway,  "  shows  us  that  it  has  been  quite  possible 
for  peoples  to  attain  a  high  degree  of  civilisation  without 
feeling  any  need  of  what  are  properly  termed  coins."  "  The 
absence  of  coinage,"  adds  Mr.  Coffey,  "  does  not  necessarily 
imply  the  absence  of  a  currency  system,  and  Professor  Ridge- 
way  has  shown  that  the  ancient  Irish  possessed  a  system  of 
of  currency  or  values,  and  a  standard  of  weights." 

A  most  interesting  paper  by  Mr.  Johnson,  a  Dublin 
jeweller,  recently  read  before  the  Royal  Irish  Academy,2  has 


1  "  Notes  on  the  Composition  of  Ancient  Irish  Gold  and  Silver  Orna- 
ments," by  Ernest  A.  Smith,  Assoc.  R.S.M.,  F.C.S,  Royal  School  of  Mines, 
London,  R.  I.  A.  Transactions,  May,  1896. 

2  "  Proceedings  of  the  Royal  Irish  Academy,"  May,  1896.    The  tools  and 
appliances  necessary  for  producing  the  fine  gold  fibulae  of  a  private 
collector,  which  Mr.  Johnson  examined,  would  be,  he  says,  "  a  furnace, 
charcoal,  crucible,  mould  for  ingot,  flux,  bellows,  several  hammers,  anvil, 
swage  anvil,  swages,  chisels  for  ornament,  sectional  tool  for  producing 
concentric  rings."     On  one  of  them,  he  says,  "  there  is  a  thickened  edge 
and  a  beautiful  moulded  ornament  on  the  outer  side  only,  which  quite 
puzzles  one  as  to  how  it  was  produced  without  suggesting  what  are  con- 
sidered to  be  modern  tools." 


126     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

shown  with  the  authority  due  to  an  expert,  the  marvellous 
skill  with  which  the  pre-historic  Irish  worked  their  gold,  and 
the  wealth  of  proper  appliances  which  they  must  have  possessed 
in  order  to  turn  out  such  unique  and  admirable  results.1 

The  workmanship  of  Irish  bronze  articles  is  also  very  fine, 
and  fully  equal  to  that  of  Britain,  while  Greenwell  considers 
their  clay  urns  and  food-vessels  superior  to  the  British.  In 
Ireland  he  says  the  urns,  "  and  especially  the  food  vessels,  are 
of  better  workmanship,  and  more  elaborately  and  tastefully 
ornamented  than  in  most  parts  of  Britain.  Many  of  the  food 
vessels  found  in  Argyleshire,  and  in  other  districts  in  the  South- 
west of  Scotland,  as  might  be  perhaps  expected,  are  very 
Irish  in  character,  and  may  claim  to  be  equally  fine  in  taste 
and  delicate  in  workmanship  with  those  of  Ireland."  2 

The  brilliant  appearance  of  Cormac  mac  Art  when  presiding 
over  the  assembly  at  Tara,  covered  with  gold  and  jewels, 
receives  enhanced  credibility  from  the  proofs  of  early  Irish 
wealth  and  culture  that  I  have  just  adduced.  Let  us  glance 
at  Tara  itself,  as  it  existed  in  the  time  of  Cormac,  and  see 
whether  archaeology  can  throw  any  light  upon  the  ancient 
accounts  of  that  royal  hill.  It  was  round  this  hill  that  the 
great  Feis,  or  assemblage  of  the  men  of  all  Ireland,  took  place 
triennially,3  with  a  threefold  purpose — to  promulgate  laws 
universally  binding  upon  all  Ireland  ;  to  test,  purge,  and 


1  A  splendid  find  of  gold  ornaments  made  last  year  near  the  estuary  of 
the  Foyle  river,  of  a  golden  model  of  a  boat,  evidently  a  votive  offering, 
fitted  with  seat,  mast,  oars,  and  punting  poles,  an  exquisitely-wrought  gold 
collar,  decorated  in  relief  with  the  most  beautiful  embossed  work,  torques, 
neckchains,  etc.,  has  been  dated  from  internal  evidences  as  work  of  the 
second  century,  the  neck-chains  being  clearly  provincial  Roman  work  of 
that  date.    It  is  to  be  regretted  that  these  exquisite  articles  have  found 
their  way  to  the  British  Museum,  where  they  will  be  practically  lost, 
instead  of  being  added  to  the  unique  Irish  collection  in  Dublin,  to  which 

hey  properly  belong. 

2  Greenwell's  "  British  Barrows,"  p.  62,  quoted  by  Coffey. 

3  O'Donovan,  in  his  preface  to  "  The  Book  of  Rights,"  gives  some  reasons 
for  believing  that  it  may  have  been  held  only  septennially. 


EARLY  IRISH  CIVILISATION  127 

sanction  the  annals  and  genealogies  of  Ireland,  in  the  presence 
of  all  men,  so  that  no  untruth  or  flaw  might  creep  in  ;  and, 
finally,  to  register  the  same  in  the  great  national  record,  in 
later  times  called  the  Saltair  of  Tara,  so  that  cases  of  disputed 
succession  might  be  peacefully  settled  by  reference  to  this 
central  authoritative  volume.  The  session  of  the  men  of 
Ireland  thus  convened  took  place  on  the  third  day  before 
Samhain — November  day — and  ended  the  third  day  after  it. 
We  are  told  that  Cormac,  who  presided  over  these  assemblies,1 
had  ten  persons  in  constant  waiting  upon  his  person,  who  hardly 
ever  left  him.  These  were  a  prince  of  noble  blood,  a  druid, 
a  physician,  a  brehon,  a  bard,  a  historian,  a  musician,  and  three 
stewards.  And  Keating  tells  us  that  the  very  same  arrangement 
was  observed  from  Cormac's  time — in  the  third  century — to 
the  death  of  Brian  Boru  in  the  eleventh,  the  only  alteration 
being  that  a  Christian  priest  was  substituted  for  the  druid. 

To  accommodate  the  chiefs  and  princes  who  came  to  the 
great  F&s,  Cormac  built  the  renowned  Teach  Miodhchuarta 
[Toch  Mee-coo-ar-ta]  which  was  able  to  accommodate  a 
thousand  persons,  and  which  was  used  at  once  for  a  house  of 
assembly,  a  banqueting  hall,  and  a  sleeping  abode.  We  have 
two  accounts  of  this  hall  and  of  the  other  monuments  of  Tara, 
written,  the  one  in  poetry,  the  other  in  verse,  some  nine 
hundred  years  ago.  The  prose  of  the  Dinnseanchus  describes 
accurately  the  lie  of  the  building,  "to  the  north-west  of  the 
eastern  mound."  "  The  ruins  of  this  house  " — it  lay  in  ruins 
then  as  now — "  are  thus  situated  :  the  lower  part  to  the  north 
and  the  higher  part  to  the  south  ;  and  walls  are  raised  about  it 
to  the  east  and  to  the  west.  The  northern  side  of  it  is 
enclosed  and  small,  the  lie  of  it  is  north  and  south.  It  is  in 
the  form  of  a  long  house  with  twelve  doors  upon  it,  or 
fourteen,  seven  to  the  west  and  seven  to  the  east.  This  was 
the  great  house  of  a  thousand  soldiers."2  Keating,  follow- 

1  See  the  Forus  Feasa,  p.  354  of  O'Mahony's  translation. 

2  See  Petrie's  "  Antiquities  of  Tara  Hill,"  p.  129. 


128      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

ing   his   ancient   authorities,   graphically   describes   the   Tara 
assembly. 

"  The  nobles,"  he  writes,  "  both  territorial  lords  and  captains  of 
bands  of  warriors,  were  each  man  of  them,  always  attended  by  his 
own  proper  shield-bearer.  Again  their  banquet-halls  were  arranged 
in  the  following  manner,  to  wit,  they  were  long  narrow  buildings 
with  tables  arranged  along  both  the  opposite  walls  of  the  hall ;  then 
along  these  side  walls  there  was  placed  a  beam,  in  which  were  fixed 
numerous  hooks  (one  over  the  seat  destined  for  each  of  the  nobles), 
and  between  every  two  of  them  there  was  but  the  breadth  of 
one  shield.  Upon  these  hooks  the  shanachy  hung  up  the  shields 
of  the  nobles  previously  to  their  sitting  down  to  the  banquet,  at 
which  they  all,  both  lords  and  captains,  sat  each  beneath  his  own 
shield.  However,  the  most  honoured  side  of  the  house  was 
occupied  by  the  territorial  lords,  whilst  the  captains  of  warriors * 
were  seated  opposite  to  them  at  the  other.  The  upper  end  of  the 
hall  was  the  place  of  the  ollavs,  while  the  lower  end  was  assigned  to 
the  attendants  and  the  officers  in  waiting.  It  was  also  prescribed 
that  no  man  should  be  placed  opposite  another  at  the  same  table, 
but  that  all,  both  territorial  lords  and  captains,  should  sit  with  their 
backs  towards  the  wall,  beneath  their  own  shields.  Again,  they 
never  admitted  females  into  their  banquet-halls  ;  these  had  a  hall  of 
their  own  in  which  they  were  separately  served.  It  was  likewise  the 
prescribed  usage  to  clear  out  the  banquet-hall  previous  to  serving 
the  assembled  nobles  therein.  And  no  one  was  allowed  to  remain 
in  the  building  but  three,  namely,  a  Shanachy  and  a  bolsgaire  [mar- 
shal or  herald],  and  a  trumpeter,  the  duty  of  which  latter  officer  was 
to  summon  all  the  guests  to  the  banquet-hall  by  the  sound  of  his 
trumpet-horn.  He  had  to  sound  his  horn  three  times.  At  the  first 
blast  the  shield-bearers  of  the  territorial  chieftains  assembled  round 
the  door  of  the  hall,  where  the  marshal  received  from  them  the 
shields  of  their  lords,  which  he  then,  according  to  the  directions  of 
the  shanachy,  hung  up  each  in  its  assigned  place.  The  trumpeter 
then  sounded  his  trumpet  a  second  time,  and  the  shield-bearers  of 
the  chieftains  of  the  military  bands  assembled  round  the  door  of  the 
banquet-hall,  where  the  marshal  received  their  lords'  shields  from 
them  also,  and  hung  them  up  at  the  other  side  of  the  hall  according 
to  the  orders  of  the  shanachy,  and  over  the  table  of  the  warriors. 
The  trumpeter  sounded  his  trumpet  the  third  time,  and  thereupon 

1  This  seems  a  plain  allusion  to  the  Fenians,  believed  in  Ireland  to  have 
been  Cormac's  militia. 


EARLY  IRISH  CIVILISATION  129 

both  the  nobles  and  the  warrior  chiefs  entered  the  banquet-hall,  and 
then  each  man  sat  down  beneath  his  own  shield,  and  thus  were  all 
contests  for  precedency  avoided  amongst  them." 

These  accounts  of  the  Dinnseanchus  and  of  Keating,  taken 
from  authorities  now  lost,  will  be  likely  to  receive  additional 
credit  when  we  know  that  the  statements  made  nine  hundred 
years  ago,  when  Tara  had  even  then  lain  in  ruins  for  four 
centuries,  have  been  verified  in  every  essential  particular  by 
the  officers  of  the  Ordnance  Survey.  The  statement  in  the 
Dinnseanchus  made  nearly  nine  hundred  years  ago  that  there 
were  either  six  or  seven  doors  on  each  side,  shows  the  condition 
into  which  Tara  had  then  fallen,  one  on  each  side  being  so 
obliterated  that  now,  also,  it  is  difficult  to  say  whether  it  was  a 
door  or  not.  The  length  of  the  hall,  according  to  Petrie's 
accurate  measurements,  was  seven  hundred  and  sixty  feet,  and 
its  breadth  was  nearly  ninety.  There  was  a  double  row  of 
benches  on  each  side,  running  the  entire  length  of  the  hall, 
which  would  give  four  rows  of  men  if  we  remember  that  the 
guests  were  all  seated  on  the  same  side  of  the  tables,  and 
allowing  the  ample  room  of  three  feet  to  each  man,  this  would 
just  give  accommodation  to  a  thousand.  In  the  middle  of  the 
hall,  running  down  all  the  way  between  the  benches,  there 
was  a  row  of  fires,  and  just  above  each  fire  was  a  spit 
descending  from  the  roof,  at  which  the  joints  were  roasted. 
There  is  a  ground  plan  of  the  building,  in  the  Book  of  Leinster, 
and  the  figure  of  a  cook  is  rudely  drawn  with  his  mouth  open, 
and  a  ladle  in  his  hand  to  baste  the  joint.  The  king  sat  at 
the  southern  end  of  the  hall,  and  the  servants  and  retainers 
occupied  the  northern. 

The  banqueting-hall  and  all  the  other  buildings  at  Tara 
were  of  wood,  nor  is  the  absence  of  stone  buildings  in  itself 
a  proof  of  low  civilisation,  since,  in  a  country  like  Ireland, 
abounding  in  timber,  wood  could  be  made  to  answer  every 
purpose — as  in  point  of  fact  it  does  at  this  day  over  the  greater 
part  of  America,  and  in  all  northern  countries  where  forests 

i 


130     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

are  numerous.1  All  or  most  Irish  houses,  down  to  the  period 
of  the  Danish  invasions,  were  constructed  of  wood,  or  of  wood 
and  clay  mixed,  or  of  clay  and  unmortared  stones,  and  their 
strongholds  were  of  wooden  pallisades  planted  upon  clay  earth- 
works. This  is  the  reason  why  so  few  remains  of  pre-historic 
buildings  have  come  down  to  us,  but  it  is  no  reason  for  believing 
that,  as  in  Cormac's  banquet-hall,  rude  palatial  effects  were  not 
often  produced.  An  interesting  poem  in  the  Dialogue  of  the 
Sages,  from  the  Book  of  Lismore,  describes  the  house  of  the 
Lady  Crede,  said  to  have  been  a  contemporary  of  Finn  mac 
Cumhail  in  the  third  century.2  Though  the  poem  may  not 
itself  be  very  old,  it  no  doubt  embodies  many  ancient  truths, 
and  is  worth  quoting  from.  A  poet  comes  to  woo  the  lady,  and 
brings  this  poem  with  him.  Finn  accompanies  him.  When  they 
reached  her  fortress  "  girls,  yellow-haired,  of  marriageable  age, 
showed  on  the  balconies  of  her  bowers."  The  poet  sang  to  her— 

"  Happy  is  the  house  in  which  she  is 
Between  men  and  children  and  women, 
Between  druids  and  musical  performers, 
Between  cupbearers  and  doorkeepers.3 

1  Bede  mentions,  if  I  remember  rightly — I  forget  where — a  church 
built   in    the  north  of   Britain,  more   Scotorum,  robore   secto,   "  of   cleft 
oak,  in   the    Irish   fashion."     The    Columban    churches  were  also    of 
wood     and    wattles,   contemporaneous    with   which  were  the  beehive 
cells  of  uncemented   stone,  probably  less  warm  and  less  comfortable 
than  the  thatched  houses.     "  Ce  que  nous  savons  des  anciens  edifices 
irlandais,"  says  M.  Jubainville,  "  donne  le  droit  d'affirmer  que  la  plupart 
des  constructions  elevees  a  Emain  macha  [i.e.,  Emania,  the  capital  of 
Ulster,  and  of  the  Red  Branch  heroes,  two  miles  west  of  Armagh]  pendant 
le  periode  epique  de  1'histoire  d'Irlande,  ont  du  etre  en  bois  ;  cependant  il 
y  avait  etc  employe  au  moins  quelques  pierres."    Angus  the  Culdee  has 
a  noble  verse  relating  to  the  stones  of  Emania,  the  finest,  perhaps,  in  the 
whole  Saltair  na  rann,  "  Emania's  palace  has  vanished,  yet  its  stones  still 
remain,  but  the  Rome  of  the  western  world  is  now  Glendaloch  of  the 
gatherings,"  "  is  Ruam  iarthair  beatha  Gleann  dalach  da  locha." 

2  Sec  "  Silva  Gadelica,"  p.  in,  and  O'Curry's  MS.  Materials,  p.  595. 

3  Aibhinn  in  tech  in  ata, 
Idir  fira  is  maca  is  mna,  f 
Idir  dhruidh  ocus  aes  ceoil, 
Idir  dhailiumh  is  dhoirseoir. 


EARLY  IRISH  CIVILISATION  131 

Between  equerries  without  fear, 
And  distributors  who  divide  [the  fare], 
And,  over  all  these,  the  command  belongs 
To  Crede  of  the  yellow  hair. 


The  colour  [of  her  house]  is  like  the  colour  of  lime, 
Within  it  are  couches  and  green  rushes  (?) 
Within  it  are  silks  and  blue  mantles, 
Within  it  are  red,  gold,  and  crystal  cups. 

Of  its  many  chambers  the  corner  stones, 
Are  all  of  silver  and  yellow  gold, 
In  faultless  stripes  its  thatch  is  spread, 
Of  wings  of  brown,  and  of  crimson  red. 

Two  door  posts  of  green  I  see, 

Door  not  devoid  of  beauty, 

Of  carved  silver,  long  has  it  been  renowned, 

In  the  lintel  that  is  over  the  door. 

Crede's  chair  is  on  your  left  hand, 
The  pleasantest  of  the  pleasant  it  is, 
All  over,  a  blaze  x  of  Alpine  gold 
At  the  foot  of  her  beautiful  couch. 

A  splendid  couch  in  full  array 
Stands  directly  above  the  chair  ; 
It  was  made  by  Tulle  in  the  East, 
Of  yellow  gold  and  precious  stones. 

There  is  another  bed  on  your  right  hand 
Of  gold  and  silver  without  defect, 
With  curtains  with  soft  [pillows], 
With  graceful  rods  of  golden-bronze. 

An  hundred  feet  spans  Crede's  house 
From  one  angle  to  the  other, 
And  twenty  feet  are  fully  measured 
In  the  breadth  of  its  noble  door. 

Its  portico  is  covered,  too, 

With  wings  of  birds,  both  yellow  and  blue, 

Its  lawn  in  front  and  its  well 

Of  crystal  and  of  Carmogel." 

1  Thus  O'Curry  translates   casair  as  if  he  had  taken  it  to  be  lasair. 
O'Grady  translates  "  an  overlay  of  Elpa's  gold." 


132      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

The  houses  of  the  ancient  Irish  were  either  like  Cormac's 
banqueting-hall  and  Crede's  house,  built  quadrilaterally  of 
felled  trees  or  split  planks  planted  upright  in  the  earth,  and 
thatched  overhead,  or  else,  as  was  most  usually  the  case,  they 
were  cylindrical  and  made  of  wickerwork,  with  a  cup-shaped 
roof,  plastered  with  clay  and  whitewashed.  The  magnificent 
dimensions  of  Cormac's  palace,  verified  as  they  are  by  the 
careful  measurements  of  the  Ordnance  Survey — a  palace 
certainly  erected  in  pagan  times,  since  Tara  was  deserted  for 
ever  about  the  year  550 — bear  evidence,  like  our  wealth  of 
beautifully-wrought  gold  ornaments,  and  the  superior  work- 
manship of  our  surviving  articles  of  bronze  and  clay,  to  a  high 
degree  of  civilisation  and  culture  amongst  the  pre-Christian 
Irish  ;  I  have  here  adduced  them  as  bearing  indirect  evidence 
in  favour  of  the  probability  that  a  people  so  civilised  would 
have  been  likely  to  have  seized  on  the  invention  of  writing 
when  they  first  came  in  contact  with  it,  and  would  have  kept 
their  annals  and  genealogies  all  the  more  accurately  from  the 
very  fact  that  they  were  evidently  so  advanced  in  other 
matters. 


CHAPTER  XIII 

ST.    PATRICK    AND    THE    EARLY    MISSIONARIES 

EVEN  supposing  the  Ogam  alphabet  to  have  been   used   in 
pre-Christian  times,  though  it  may  have  been  employed   by 
ollavs  and    poets  to  perpetuate   tribal  names  and  genealogies, 
still  it  was  much  too  cumbrous  and  clumsy  an  invention  to 
produce  anything  deserving  the  name  of  real  literature.     It  is,  , 
so  far  as  we  know,   only  with   the   coming  of  Patrick  that  i 
Ireland  may  be  said    to    have  become,   properly   speaking,  a  j 
literary  country.     The  churches  and  monasteries  established 
by  him  soon  became  so   many  nuclei  of  learning,  and  from 
the  end  of  the  fifth  century  a  knowledge  of  letters  seems  to  | 
have   entirely  permeated   the  island.      So   suddenly  does  this 
appear  to  have  taken  place,  and  so  rapidly  does  Ireland  seem 
to  have  produced  a  flourishing  literature  of  laws,  poems,  and 
sagas,    that   it    is   very  hard  to   believe    that  the   inhabitants 
had    not,    before    his    coming,    arrived    at    a    high    state    of 
indigenous    culture.       This    aspect    of    the    case    has    been 
recently    strongly    put    by    Dr.    Sigerson.     "  I    assert,"    said 
he,  speaking  of  the    early  Brehon    laws,   at    the  revision    of 
which    in    a    Christian     sense    St.    Patrick    is    said    to    have 
assisted,   "  that,    speaking    biologically,   such    laws   could    not 

133 


134      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

emanate  from  any  race  whose  brains  have  not  been  subject  to 
the  quickening  influence  of  education  for  many  generations."  T 

The  usual  date  assigned  for  St.  Patrick's  landing  in  Ireland 
in  the  character  of  a  missionary  is  432,  and  his  work  among 
the  Irish  is  said  to  have  lasted  for  sixty  yearsy  during  which 
time  he  broke  down  the  idol  Crom  Cruach,  burnt  the 
books  of  the  druids  at  Tara,  ordained  numerous  missionaries 
and  bishops,  and  succeeded  in  winning  over  to  Christianity 
a  great  number  of  the  chiefs  and  sub-kings,  who  were  in  their 
turn  followed  by  their  tribesmen. 

St.  Patrick  did  not  work  alone,  nor  did  he  come  to  Ireland 
as  a  solitary  pioneer  of  a  new  religion  ;  he  was  accompanied, 
as  we  learn  from  his  life  in  the  Book  of  Armagh,  by  a 
multitude  of  bishops,  priests,  deacons,  readers,  and  others,2 
who  had  crossed  over  along  with  him  for  the  service.  Several 
were  his  own  blood  relations,  one  was  his  sister's  son.  Many 
likely  youths  whom  he  met  on  his  missionary  travels  he  con- 
verted to  Christianity,  taught  to  read,  tonsured,  and  afterwards 
ordained.  These  new  priests  thus  appointed  worked  in  all 
directions,  establishing  churches  and  getting  together  congre- 
gations from  amongst  the  neighbouring  heathen.  Unable  to 
give  proper  attention  to  the  teaching  of  the  youths  whom  he 
elected  as  his  helpers,  so  long  as  he  himself  was  engaged  in 
journeying  through  Ireland  from  point  to  point,  he,  after  about 
twenty  years  of  peripatetic  teaching,  established  at  Armagh 
about  the  year  450  the  first  Christian  school  ever  founded  in 
Ireland,  the  progenitor  of  that  long  line  of  colleges  which  made 
Ireland  famous  throughout  Europe,  and  to  which,  two  hundred 
years  later,  her  Anglo-Saxon  neighbours  flocked  in  thousands.  3 

1 "  Contemporary  Review." 

2  So  Tirechan,  in  Book  of  Armagh,  fol.  9.    "  Et  secum  fuit  multitude 
episcoporum   sanctorum   et  presbiterorum,  et  diaconorum,    ac   exorcis- 
tarum,  hostiarium,  lectorumque,  necnon  filiorum  quos  ordinavit." 

3  So  many  English  were  attracted  to  Armagh  in  the  seventh  century 
that  the  city  was  divided  into  three  wards,  or  thirds,  one  of  which  was 
called  the  Saxon  Third. 


ST.  PATRICK  AND  EARLY  MISSIONARIES  135 

The  equipments  of  these  newly-made  priests  was  of  the 
scantiest.  Each,  as  he  was  sent  forth,  received  an  alphabet- 
of-the-faith  or  elementary-explanation  of  the  Christian  doc- 
trine, frequently  written  by  Patrick  himself,  a  "Liber  ordinis," 
or  "  Mass  Book,"  a  written  form  for  the  administration  of 
the  sacraments,  a  psaltery,  and,  if  it  could  be  spared,  a  copy  of 
the  Gospels.1  A  good-sized  retinue  followed  Patrick  in  all  his 
journeyings,  ready  to  supply  with  their  own  hands  all  things 
necessary  for  the  new  churches  established  by  the  saint,  as 
well  as  to  minister  to  his  own  wants.  He  travelled  with  his 
episcopal  coadjutor,  his  psalm-singer,  his  assistant  priest,  his 
judge — originally  a  Brehon  by  profession,  whom  he  found  most 
useful  in  adjudicating  on  disputed  questions — a  personal  cham- 
pion to  protect  him  from  sudden  attack  and  to  carry  him 
through  floods  and  other  obstacles,  an  attendant  on  himself, 
a  bellringer,  a  cook,  a  brewer,  a  chaplain  at  the  table,  two 
waiters,  and  others  who  provided  food  and  accommodation  for 
himself  and  his  household.  He  had  in  his  company  three 
smiths,  three  artificers,  and  three  ladies  who  embroidered. 
His  smiths  and  artificers  made  altars,  book-covers,  bells,  and 
helped  to  erect  his  wooden  churches  ;  the  ladies,  one  of  them 
his  own  sister,  made  vestments  and  altar  linens.2 

St.  Patrick  was  essentially  a  man  of  work  and  not  of  letters, 
and  yet  it  so  happens  that  he  is  the  earliest  Irish  writer  of 
whom  we  can  say  with  confidence  that  what  is  ascribed  to  him 
is  really  his.  And  here  it  is  as  well  to  say  something  about 
the  genuineness  of  St.  Patrick's  personality  and  the  authen- 
ticity of  his  writings,  for  the  opinion  started  by  Ledwich  has 
gone  abroad,  and  has  somehow  become  prevalent,  that  St. 
Patrick's  personality  is  nearly  as  nebulous  as  that  of  King 
Arthur  or  of  Finn  mac  Cumhail,  and  at  the  best  is  made  up  of 
a  number  of  little  Patricks  lumped  into  one  great  one.  That 

1  See  Dr.  Healy's  "  Ireland's  Ancient  Schools  and  Scholars,"  p.  64. 

2  There  is  a  curious  poem  on  St.  Patrick's  family  of  artificers  quoted  in 
the  "  Four  Masters  "  under  A.D.  278. 


136      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

there  was  more  than  one  Patrick *  is  certain,2  and  that  the 
great  Saint  Patrick  who  wrote  the  "Confession"  may  have  got 
credit  in  the  early  Latin  and  later  Irish  lives  for  the  acts  of 
others,  is  perfectly  possible,  but  that  most  of  the  essential 
features  of  his  life  are  true,  is  beyond  all  doubt,  and  we 
have  a  manuscript  1091  years  old,  apparently  copied  from 
his  own  handwriting,  and  containing  his  own  confession  and 
apologia. 

How  this  exquisite  manuscript,  consisting  of  21 6  vellum 
leaves,  written  in  double  columns,  has  happily  been  preserved 
to  us,  we  shall  not  lose  time  in  inquiring  ;  but  how  its  exact 
date  has  been  ascertained  through  what  Dr.  Reeves  has  charac- 
terised as  "one  of  the  most  elegant  and  recondite  demonstrations 

1  There  were  no  less  than  twenty-two  saints  of  the  name  of  Colum,  yet 
that  does  not  detract  one  iota  from  the  genuineness  of  the  life  of  the  great 
Colum,  called  Columcille.  There  were  fourteen  St.  Brendans,  there 
were  twenty-five  St.  Ciarans,  and  fifteen  St.  Brigits. 

How  Ledwich — who,  however,  as  O' Donovan  remarks,  looks  at  every- 
thing Irish  with  a  jaundiced  eye — could  have  written  down  St.  Patrick 
as  a  myth  is  inconceivable,  in  the  face  of  the  fact  that  he  was  already 
recognised  in  the  sixth  century  as  a  great  saint.  The  earliest  mention  of 
him'  is  probably  St.  Columba's  subscription  to  the  Book  of  Durrow,  in 
the  sixth  century,  which  runs  :  "Rogo  beatitudinem  tuam  Sancte  Presbyter 
Patrici,  ut  quicumque  hunc  libellum  manu  tenuerit  Columbse  Scriptoris, 
qui  hoc  scripsi  .  .  .  met  evangelium  per  xii.  dierum  spatium."  Here  we 
see  a  prayer  already  addressed  to  him  as  a  national  saint. 

-  This  is  clearly  shown  by  the  56th  chap,  of  Tirechan's  life  fol.  i6aa 
of  the  Book  of  Armagh,  where  he  makes  the  following  statement : 
"XIII.  Anno  Teothosii  imperatoris  a  Celestino  episcopo  papa  Romae 
Patricius  episcopus  ad  doctrinam  Scottorum  mittitur.  Qui  Celestinus 
XLVII  episcopus  fuit  a  Petro  apostolo  in  urbe  Roma.  Paladius  episcopus 
primus  mittitur  [in  the  year  430,  according  to  Bede]  qui  Patricius  alio 
nomine  appellabatur,  qui  martirium  passus  est  apud  Scottos,  ut  tradunt 
sancti  antiqui.  Deinde  Patricius  secundus  ab  anguelo  Dei,  Victor  nomine, 
et  a  Celestino  papa  mittitur,  cui  Hibernia  tota  credidit,  qui  earn  pene 
totam  bab  [titzavit] ."  Also  it  is  to  be  observed  that  St.  Patrick's  life 
according  to  the  usual  computations,  covers  120  years,  which  seems  an 
improbably  long  period.  According  to  the  Brussels  Codex  of  Muirchu 
Maccu  Machteni's  life,  he  died  a  passiom  Domini  nostri  436  ;  the  author,  no 
doubt,  imagined  the  passion  to  have  taken  place  in  A.D.  34  ;  this  would  fix 
Patrick's  death  as  in  470.  See  p.  20  of  Father  Hogan's  "  Documenta 
ex  Libro  Armachano,"  and  with  this  Tirechan  also  agrees,  saying 


ST.  PA  TRICK  AND  EARL  Y  MISSIONARIES  137 

which  any  learned  society  has  on  record,  is  worth  mentioning." 
The  Rev.  Charles  Graves,  the  present  Bishop  of  Limerick, 
made  a  thorough  examination  of  the  whole  codex  when,  after 
many  vicissitudes  and  hair-breadth  escapes  from  destruction,  it 
had  been  temporarily  deposited  in  the  Royal  Irish  Academy. 
Knowing,  as  O'Curry  pointed  out,  that  it  was  the  custom  for 
Irish  scribes  to  sign  their  own  names,  with  usually  some  par- 
ticulars about  their  writing,  at  the  end  of  each  piece  they 
copied,  he  made  a  careful  search  and  discovered  that  this 
had  actually  been  done  in  the  Book  of  Armagh,  and  in 
no  less  than  eight  places,  but  that  on  every  spot  where  it 
occurred  it  had  been  erased  for  some  apparently  inscrutable 
reason,  with  the  greatest  pains.  In  the  last  place  but  one, 

"A  passione  autem  christi  colleguntur  anni  ccccxxxvi.  usque  ad 
mortem  Patricii."  Tirechan  curiously  contradicts  himself  in  saying, 
"  Duobus  autem  vel  v  annis  regnavit  Loiguire  post  mortem  Patricii,  omnis 
autem  regni  illius  tempus  xxxvi.  ut  putamus,"  in  chap,  ii.,  and  in  chap, 
liii.  he  says  that  Patrick  taught  (i.e.,  in  Ireland)  for  72  years  !  He 
evidently  compiled  badly  from  two  different  documents. 

The  only  cogent  reason  for  doubting  about  the  reality  of  St.  Patrick  is 
that  he  is  not  mentioned  in  the  Chronicon  of  Prosper,  which  comes  down 
to  the  year  455,  and  which  ascribes  the  conversion  of  Ireland  to  Palladius, 
as  does  Bede  afterwards.  It  is  the  silence  of  Prosper  and  Bede  about 
any  one  of  the  name  of  Patrick  which  has  cast  doubt  upon  his  existence. 
A  most  ingenious  theory  has  been  propounded  by  Father  E.  O'Brien  in 
the  "  Irish  Ecclesiastical  Record  "  to  explain  this.  According  to  him  Patrick 
is  the  Palladius  of  Prosper  and  Bede.  The  earliest  lives,  and  the  scholiast 
on  Fiacc's  hymn,  tell  us  that  Patrick  had  four  names  ;  one  of  these  was 
Succat  "  qui  est  deus  belli,"  but  Palladius  is  the  Latin  of  Patrick's  name 
(succat).  The  Dens  belli  could  only  be  rendered  into  Latin  by  the  words 
Arius  Martius  or  Palladius,  these  being  the  only  names  drawn  from  war- 
gods,  and. of  these  Palladius  was  the  commonest.  It  seems  not  unlikely 
that  the  Patrick  who  wrote  the  "  Confession"  and  converted  Ireland  is  the 
Palladius  of  Bede  and  Prosper,  who  also  converted  Ireland.  The  Paladius 
of  Tirechan  who  failed  to  convert  Ireland  is  evidently  another  person 
altogether. 

It  is  to  be  remarked  that  although  Bede  never  mentions  Patrick  in  his 
"Ecclesiastical  History,"  nevertheless  in  the  "  Martyrology " — found  by 
Mabillon  at  Rheims,  and  attributed  to  Bede,  Patrick  is  distinctly  com- 
memorated— 

"  Patricius  Domini  servus  conscendit  ad  aulam, 
Cuthbertus  ternas  tenuit  denasque  Kalendas." 


138      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

however,  where  the  colophon  occurred,  the  process  of  erasure 
had  been  less  thorough  than  in  the  others,  and  after  long  con- 
sideration, and  treatment  of  the  erasure  with  gallic  acid  and 
spirits  of  wine,  Dr.  Graves  discovered  that  the  words  so  care- 
fully rubbed  out  were  Pro  Ferdomnacho  ores,  "  Pray  for  Fer- 
domnach."  Turning  to  the  other  places,  he  found  that  the 
erased  words  in  at  least  one  other  place  were  evidently  the 
same.  This  settled  the  name  of  the  scribe  ;  he  was  Ferdom- 
nach.  The  next  step  was  to  search  the  "  Four  Masters,"  who 
record  the  existence  of  two  scribes  of  that  name  who  died  at 
Armagh,  one  in  726  and  the  other  in  844.  One  of  these  it 
must  have  been  who  wrote  the  Book  of  Armagh,  —  but 
which  ?  This  also  Dr.  Graves  discovered,  with  the  greatest 
ingenuity.  At  the  foot  of  Fols.  52-6  he  was,  with  extreme 
difficulty,  able  to  decipher  the  words  .  .  .  ach  hunc  .  .  . 
e  dictante  .  .  .  ach  herede  Patridi  scrtpsit.  From  these  stray 
syllables  he  surmised  that  Ferdomnach  had  written  the  book 
at  the  bidding  of  some  Archbishop  of  Armagh  whose  name 
ended  in  ach.  For  this  the  Psalter  of  Cashel,  Leabhar  Breac, 
and  "  Four  Masters,"  were  consulted,  and  it  was  found  that 
one  Archbishop  Senaach  died  in  609  ;  it  could  not  then  have 
been  by  his  commands  the  book  was  written  by  the  first 
Ferdomnach ;  then  came,  after  a  long  interval,  Faoindea- 
lach,  who  died  in  794,  Connmach,  who  died  in  806, 
and  Torbach,  who  held  the  primacy  for  one  year  after 
him.  On  examining  the  hiatus  it  was  found  that  the 
letter  which  preceded  the  fragment  ach  could  not  have  been 
either  an  /  or  an  m,  but  might  have  been  a  by  thus  putting  out 
of  the  question  the  names  of  Connmach  and  Faoindealach. 
Besides  the  vacant  space  before  the  ach  was  just  sufficient  to 
admit  of  the  letters  T0r,  but  not  Conny  much  less  Faoindea. 
The  conclusion  was  obvious :  the  passage  ran,  Ferdomnach 
hunc  librum  e  dictante  Torbach  herede  Patricii  scripsit,  "Fer- 
domnach wrote  this  book  at  the  dictation  (or  command)  of 
Torbach,  Patrick's  heir  (successor)."  Torbach,  as  we  have 


ST.  PA  TRICK  AND  EARL  Y  MISSIONARIES  139 

seen,  became  Archbishop  in   806  and  died  in  807.     The  date 
was  in  this  way  recovered.1 

I  have  been  thus  particular  in  tracing  the  steps  by  which 
the  age  of  this  manuscript  came  to  light,  because  it  contains  the 
earliest  piece  of  certain  Irish  literature  we  have,  the  "Confession 
of  St.  Patrick."  Now  the  usually  accepted  date  of  St.  Patrick's 
death,  as  given  in  the  Annals  of  Ulster,  is  4.92,  about  three  hundred 
years  before  that,  and  Ferdomnach,  the  scribe,  after  copying  it, 
added  these  words  :  "  Hue  usque  volumen  quod  patricius  manu 
comer ipsit  sua.  Septimadecima  martil  die  translate  est  patricius  ad 
ceelosy  i.e., "  thus  far  the  volume  which  Patrick  wrote  with  his  own 
hand.  On  the  seventeenth  day  of  March  was  Patrick  translated 
to  the  heavens."  It  would  appear  highly  probable  from  this 
that  Ferdomnach  actually  copied  from  St.  Patrick's  autograph,2 
which  had  become  so  defaced  or  faded  during  the  three  previous 
centuries,  that  the  scribe  has  written  in  many  places  incertus 
liber  hie,  "  the  book  is  uncertain  here,"  or  else  put  a  note  3  of 

1  For  the  full  particulars  of  this  acute  discovery,  which  sets  the  date  of 
the  codex  beyond  doubt  or  cavil,  see  Dr.  Graves'  paper  read  before  the 
Royal  Irish  Academy,  vol.  iii.  pp.  316-324,  and  a  supplementary  paper 
giving  other  cogent  reasons,  vol.  iii.  p.  358.    According  to  O'Donovan,  the 
"  Four  Masters  "  antedate  here  by  five  years.    It  is  worth  remarking  that 
Torbach,  who  caused  this  copy  to  be  made,  was  himself  a  noted  scribe. 
His  death  in  807  is  recorded  in  the  "  Four  Masters"  and  in  the  "Annals 
of  Ulster,"  we  read  "  Torbach,  son  of  Gorman,  scribe,  lector,  and  Abbot  of 
Armagh,  died." 

2  There  are  several  passages  omitted  in  the  Book  of  Armagh,  which 
are  found  in  an  ancient  Brussels  MS.  of  the  eleventh  century.    These  were 
probably  omitted  from  the  Book  of  Armagh  because  they  were  unde- 
cipherable.  The  Brussels  MS.  and  others  contain  nearly  as  much  again  as  it, 
and  there  are  many  proofs  that  this  extra  matter  is  not  of  later  or  spurious 
origin  ;  thus  Tirechan  refers  to  Patrick's  own  records,  "ut  in  scriptionesua 
affirmai"  for  evidence  of  a  fact  not  mentioned  in  the  "  Confession"  as  given 
in  the  Book  of  Armagh,  but  which  is  supplied  by  the  other  MSS.,  namely,  that 
Patrick  paid  the  price  of  fifteen  "  souls  of  men,"  or  slaves,  for  protection 
on  his  missionary  journey  across  Ireland.     The  frequent  occurrence  of 
dcest,  et  cetera,  et  rdiqua,  show  that  the  Armagh  copy  of  the  ''Confession" 
is  nothing  like  a  full  one.    The  Brussels  MS.  formerly  belonged  to  the 
Irish  monastery  of  Wurzburg. 

3  See  p.  36,  note  2. 


140     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

interrogation  to  indicate  that  he  was  not  sure  whether  he  had 
copied  the  text  correctly.  It  will  be  seen  from  this  that  there 
was  not  the  slightest  trace  of  any  concealment  on  the  part  of 
the  scribe  as  to  who  he  himself  was,  or  what  he  was  copying  ; 
there  was  no  attempt  to  antedate  his  own  writing,  or  to 
suggest  that  his  copy  was  an  original.  But  long  after  the 
scribe's  generation  had  passed  away  and  the  origin  of  his  work 
been  forgotten,  the  volume  which  at  first  had  been  regarded 
only  as  a  fine  transcript  of  early  documents,  became  known  as 
"Canon  Phadraig,"  or  Patrick's  Testament,  and  popular 
opinion,  relying  on  the  colophon  "  thus  far  the  book  which 
Patrick  wrote  with  his  own  hand,"  set  down  the  work  as  the 
saint's  autograph.  The  belief  that  the  volume  was  St. 
Patrick's  own  autograph  of  course  enhanced  enormously  its 
value,  and  with  it  the  dignity  of  its  possessors,  and  the 
unscrupulous  plan  was  resolved  on  of  erasing  the  signature  of 
the  actual  scribe.  The  veneration  of  the  public  was  thus 
secured  by  interested  persons  at  the  cost  of  truth,  and  the 
deception  probably  lasted  so  long  as  the  possession  of  such 
a  volume  brought  with  it  either  credit  or  dignity.  This  same 
volume  *  has  another  interest  attaching  to  it,  so  that  we 
cannot  but  felicitate  ourselves  that  out  of  the  wreck  of  so 
many  thousands  of  volumes,  it  has  been  spared  to  us — it  was 
brought  to  Brian  Boru,  when  in  the  year  1004  he  went  upon 
his  royal  progress  through  Ireland,  the  first  man  of  the  race 
of  Eber  who  had  attained  the  proud  position  of  monarch 
or  Ard-righ  for  many  centuries,  and  he,  by  the  hand  of 
his  secretary,  made  an  entry  which  may  still  be  seen  to- 
day, confirming  the  primacy  of  Armagh,  and  re-granting  to  it 

1  The  other  contents  of  the  Book  of  Armagh,  besides  the  Patrician 
documents,  are  a  copy  of  the  New  Testament,  enriched  with  concordance 
tables  and  illustrative  matter  from  Jerome,  Hilary,  and  Pelagius.  It 
includes  the  Epistle  to  the  Laodiceans  attributed  to  St.  Paul,  but  it  is  j 
mentioned  that  Jerome  denied  its  authenticity.  There  are  some  pieces 
relating  to  St.  Martin  of  Tours,  and  the  Patrician  pieces — the  Life,  the 
Collectanea,  the  Book  of  the  Angel,  and  the  "  Confession." 


ST.  PATRICK  AND  EARLY  MISSIONARIES  141 

the   episcopal   supremacy   of    Ireland    which    it    had    always 
enjoyed.1 

It  is  now  time  to  glance  at  St.  Patrick's  "  Confession,"  as  it 
is  usually  called,  though  in  reality  it  is  much  more  of  the 
nature  of  an  apologia  pro  vita  sua.  The  evidence  in  favour  of 
its  authenticity  is  overwhelming,  and  is  accepted  by  such 
cautious  scholars  as  Stokes,2  Todd,  and  Reeves,  no  first-rate 
critic,  with  perhaps  one  exception,  having  so  far  as  I  know 
ever  ventured  to  question  its  genuineness.  It  is  impossible  to 
assign  any  motive  for  a  forgery,  and  casual  references  to 
Decuriones,  Slave-traffic,  and  to  the  "  Brittaniae,"  or  Britains, 
bear  testimony  to  its  antiquity.  Again,  the  Latin  in  which  it 
is  written  is  barbarous  in  the  extreme,  the  periods  are  rude, 
sometimes  ungrammatical,  often  nearly  unintelligible.  He 
begins  by  telling  us  that  his  object  in  writing  this  confession 
in  his  old  age  was  to  defend  himself  from  the  charge  of 
presumptuousness  in  undertaking  the  work  he  tried  to  perform 
amongst  the  Irish.  He  tells  us  that  he  had  many  toils  and 
perils  to  surmount,  and  much  to  endure  while  engaged  upon 
it.  He  never  received  one  farthing  for  all  his  preaching  and 
teaching.  The  people  indeed  were  generous,  and  offered 
many  gifts,  and  cast  precious  things  upon  the  altar,  but  he 
would  not  receive  them  lest  he  might  afford  the  unrighteous 
an  occasion  to  cavil.  He  was  still  encompassed  about  with 
dangers,  but  he  heeded  them  not,  looking  to  the  success  which 
had  attended  his  efforts,  how  "  the  sons  of  the  Scots  and  the 

1  "  Sanctus  Patricus  iens  ad  ccelum  mandavit  totum  fructum  laboris  sui 
tarn  baptism!  tarn  causarum  quam  elemoisinarum  deferendum  esse 
apostolicse  urbi  quae  scotice  nominatur  ardd-macha.  Sic  reperi  in  Biblio- 
thics  Scotorum.  Ego  scripsi,  id  est  Caluus  Perennis,  in  conspectu  Briain 
imperatoris  Scotorum,  et  quod  scripsi  finituit  pro  omnibus  regibus  Maceriae 
[i.e.,  Cashel]."  "  Calvus  Perennis  "  is  the  Latin  translation  of  Mael-suthain, 
Brian's  scribe  and  secretary.  For  a  curious  story  about  this  Mael-suthain, 
see  p.  779  O'Curry's  MS.  Materials. 

3  See  above  p.  112,  note  2.  It  has  been  printed  in  Haddan  and  Stubb's, 
"  Councils,"  etc.,  vol.  ii.  p.  296,  and  also  admirably  in  Gilbert's  facsimiles 
of  National  MSS. 


I42      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

daughters  of  their  princes  became  monks  and  virgins  of  Christ," 
and  "the  number  of  holy  widows  and  of  continent  maidens  was 
countless."  It  would  be  tedious  were  he  to  recount  even  a 
portion  of  what  he  had  gone  through.  Twelve  times  had  his 
life  been  endangered,  but  God  had  rescued  him,  and  brought 
him  safe  from  all  plots  and  ambuscades  and  rewarded  him  for 
leaving  his  parents,  and  friends,  and  country,  heeding  neither 
their  prayers  nor  their  tears,  that  he  might  preach  the  gospel 
in  Ireland.  He  appeals  to  all  he  had  converted,  and  to  all  who 
knew  him,  to  say  whether  he  had  not  refused  all  gifts — nay,  it 
was  he  himself  who  gave  the  gifts,  to  the  kings  and  to  their 
sons,  and  oftentimes  was  he  robbed  and  plundered  of  everything, 
and  once  had  he  been  bound  in  fetters  of  iron  for  fourteen  days 
until  God  had  delivered  him,  and  even  still  while  writing  this ! 
confession  he  was  living  in  poverty  and  misery,  expecting 
death  or  slavery,  or  other  evil.  He  prays  earnestly  for  one  j 
thing  only,  that  he  may  persevere,  and  not  lose  the  people 
whom  God  has  given  to  him  at  the  very  extremity  of  the  j 
world. 

Unhappily  this  "  Confession"  is  a  most  unsatisfying  composi-  j 
tion,  for  it  omits  to  mention  almost  everything  of  most  interest  j 
relating  to  the  saint  himself  and  to  his  mission.  What  floods 
of  light  might  it  have  thrown  upon  a  score  of  vexed  questions,  j 
how  it  might  have  set  at  rest  for  ever  theories  on  druidism,  j 
kingship,  social  life,  his  own  birthplace,  his  mission  from  Rome,1] 
his  captors.  Even  of  himself  he  tells  us  next  to  nothing,? 
except  that  his  father's  name  was  Calpornus, 2  the  son  ofi 

1  It  has  often  been  said  that  the  life  of  the  saint  in  the  Book  of  Armagh  , 
ignores    the  Roman   Mission.    But  while  the  life    of   Muirchu  Maccu  \ 
Machteni  does  ignore  it,  Tirechan's  his  contemporary's,  life,  in  the  same  s 
book,  distinctly  acknowledges  it,  in  these  words,  "deinde  Patricius  se-j 
cundus  ab  anguelo  dei,  Victor  nomine,  et  a  Celestino  papa  mittitur  cui 
Hibernia  tola  credidit,  qui  earn  pene  totam  bap[titzavit]."    (See  chap.  56  ofi 
Tirechan's  life.) 

2  In  Irish  he  is  usually  called  Son  of  Alprann  or  Alplann,  the  C  of: 
Calpornus  being  evidently  taken  as  belonging  to  the  Mac,  thus  Mac  Cal-;j 
prainn  became  Mac  Alprainn.     In  the  Brussels  Codex  of  Muirchu  Maccu  ! 


ST.  PATRICK  AND  EARLY  MISSIONARIES  143 

Potitus,  the  son  of  Odissus,  a  priest,  and  that  he  dwelt  in  the 
vicus  or  township  of  Benaven  Taberniae  ;  he  had  also  a  small 
villa  not  far  off,  where  he  tells  us  he  was  made  captive  at 
the  age  of  about  sixteen  years.  Because  his  Christian  training 
was  bad,  and  he  was  not  obedient  to  the  priests  when  they 
admonished  him  to  seek  for  salvation,  therefore  God  punished 
him,  and  brought  him  into  captivity  in  a  strange  land  at  the 
end  of  the  world.  When  he  was  brought  to  Ireland  he  tells 
us  that  his  daily  task  was  to  feed  cattle,  and  then  the  love  of 
God  entered  into  his  heart,  and  he  used  to  rise  before  the  sun 
and  pray  in  the  woods  and  mountains,  in  the  rain,  the  hail,  and 
the  snow.  Then  there  came  to  him  one  night  a  voice  in  his 
sleep  saying  to  him  "  Your  ship  is  ready,"  and  he  departed  and 
went  for  two  hundred  miles,  until  he  reached  a  port  where 
he  knew  no  one.  This  was  after  six  years'  captivity.  The 
master  of  the  ship  would  not  take  him  on  board,  but  afterwards 
he  relented  just  as  Patrick  was  about  to  return  to  the  cottage 
where  he  had  got  lodging.  He  succeeded  at  last  in  reaching 
the  home  of  his  parents  in  'Britannls  [i.e.,  in  some  part  of 
Britain,  including  Scotland],  and  his  parents  besought  him, 
now  that  he  had  returned  from  so  many  perils,  to  remain  with 
them  always.  But  the  angel  Victor  came  in  the  guise  of  a 
man  from  Ireland,  and  gave  him  a  letter,  in  which  the  voice  of 
the  Irish  called  him  away,  and  the  voices  of  those  who  dwelt 
near  the  wood  of  Focluth  called  him  to  walk  amongst  them, 
and  the  spirit  of  God,  too,  urged  him  to  return.1 

Machteni's  life,  however,  he  is  called  Alforni  filius,  and  the  place  of  his 
birth  is  called  Ban  navem  thabur  indecha,  supposed  to  be  Killpatrick,  near 
Dumbarton,  in  Scotland,  which  is  evidently  a  corruption  of  his  own 
Bannaven  Taberniae,  which  seems  to  mean  River-head  Tavern  ;  it  may  be 
from  the  two  words  navem  thabur  that  St.  Fiacc's  hymn  says  that  he  was 
born  in  nemthur.  Patrick  himself  only  gives  us  two  generations  of  his 
ancestry,  and  it  is  very  significant  of  Irish  ways  to  find  Flann  of 
Monasterboice,  running  it  up  to  fourteen  ! 

1  It  is  worth  while  to  transcribe  this  passage  as  a  fair  specimen  of  St. 
Patrick's  style  and  latinity.  "  Et  ibi  scilicet  in  sinu  noctis  virum  venientem 
quasi  de  Hiberione  cui  nomen  Victoricus,  cum  sepistulis  innumerabilibus 


144      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

He  says  nothing  of  his  training,  or  his  ordination,  or  his  long 
sojourn  in  Gaul,  or  of  St.  Germanus,  with  whom  he  studied 
according  to  the  "  Lives,"  but  he  alludes  incidentally  to  his 
wish  to  see  his  parents  and  his  native  Britain,  and  to  revisit  the 
brethren  in  Gaul,  and  to  see  the  face  of  God's  saints  there  ;  but 
though  he  desired  all  this,  he  would  not  leave  his  beloved 
converts,  but  would  spend  the  rest  of  his  life  amongst  them.1 

From  this  brief  resume  of  the  celebrated  "Confession"  it  will 
be  seen  that  it  is  the  perfervid  outpouring  of  a  zealous  early 
Christian,  anxious  only  to  clear  himself  from  the  charges  of 
worldliness  or  carelessness,  and  absolutely  devoid  of  those 
appeals  to  general  interest  which  we  meet  with  in  most  of 
such  memoirs,  but  there  is  a  vein  of  warm  piety  running 
through  the  whole,  and  an  abundance  of  scriptural  quotations 
— all,  of  course,  from  the  ante-Hieronymian  or  pre-Vulgate 
version,  another  proof  of  antiquity — which  has  caused  it  to  be 
remarked  that  a  forger  might,  perhaps,  write  equally  bad  Latin, 
but  could  hardly  "forge  the  spirit  that  breathes  in  the  language 
which  is  the  manifest  outpourings  of  a  heart  like  unto  the 
heart  of  St.  Paul."  2 

There  are  two  other  pieces  of  literature  assigned  to  St. 
Patrick,  as  well  as  the  "  Confession  " ;  these  are  the  "  Epistle  to 
Coroticus  "  in  Latin,  and  the  "  Deer's  Cry  "  in  Irish.  Tl 

vidi  ;  et  dedit  mihi  unam  ex  his  et  legi  principium  sepistolae  continental 
'  Uox  Hiberionacum.'     Et  dum  recitabam  principium  aepistolae,  putabai 
enim  ipse  in  mente  audire  vocem  ipsorum  qtii  erant  juxta  silvam  Foclut 
[in  the  county  Mayo]  quae  est  prope  mare  occidentale.    Et  sic  exclam- 
averunt  :  '  Rogamus  te  sancte  puer  ut  venias  et  adhuc  ambulas  inter  nos.' 
Et  valde  compunctus  sum  corde,   et  amplius  non  potui  legere.     Et  sic 
expertus  {i.e.  experrectus]  sum.     Deo  gratias  quia  post  plurimos  ann< 
prsestitit  illis  Dominus  secundum  clamorum  illorum  "  (Folio  23,  66,  Bool 
of  Armagh,  p.  126  of  Father  Hogan's  Bollandist  edition). 

1  The  "  Confession  "  ends  with  a  certain  rough  eloquence  :   "  Christi 
Dominus    pauper  fuit  pro  nobis  ;  ego  vero  miser  et  infelix,  et  si 
voluero  jam  non  habeo  ;  neque  me  ipsum  judico  quia  quotidie  spero  aut 
internicionem  aut  circumveniri,  aut  redigi   in  servitatem,  sive  occassic 
cujus-libet.  .  .    Et  haec  est  confessio  mea  antequam  moriar." 

2  Dr.  Healy's  "  Ireland's  Ancient  Schools  and  Scholars,"  p.  68. 


ST.  PATRICK  AND  EARLY  MISSIONARIES  145 

Epistle  is  not  found  in  the  Book  of  Armagh,  but  it  is  found 
in  other  MSS.  as  old  as  the  tenth  or  eleventh  century,  and 
bears  such  close  resemblance  in  style  and  language  to  the 
"  Confession,"  whole  phrases  actually  occurring  in  both,  that  it 
also  has  generally  been  regarded  as  genuine.1  There  is  some 
doubt  as  to  who  Coroticus  was,  but  he  seems  to  have  been  a 
semi-Christian  king  of  Dumbarton  who,  along  with  some  Scots, 
i.e.,  Irish,  and  the  Southern  Picts  who  had  fallen  away  from 
Christianity,  raided  the  eastern  shores  of  Ireland  and  carried 
off  a  number  of  St.  Patrick's  newly-converted  Christians, 
leaving  the  white  garments  of  the  neophytes  stained  with 
blood,  and  hurrying  into  captivity  numbers  upon  whose  fore- 
heads the  holy  oil  of  confirmation  was  still  glistening.  The 
first  letter  was  to  ask  Coroticus  to  restore  the  captives,  and 
when  this  request  was  derided  the  next  was  sent,  excommuni- 
cating him  and  all  his  aiders  and  abettors,  calling  upon  all 
Christians  neither  to  eat  nor  drink  in  their  company  until 
they  had  made  expiation  for  their  crimes.  Patrick  himself 
had,  he  here  explains,  preached  the  gospel  to  the  Irish  nation 
for  the  sake  of  God,  though  they  had  made  him  a  captive  and 
destroyed  the  men-servants  and  maids  of  his  father's  house. 
He  had  been  born  a  freedman  and  a  noble,  the  son  of  a 
decurio  or  prefect,  but  he  had  sold  his  nobility  for  others  and 
regretted  it  not.  His  lament  over  the  loss  of  his  converts  is 
touching  :  "  Oh  !  my  most  beautiful  and  most  loving  brothers 
and  children  whom  in  countless  numbers  I  have  begotten  in 
Christ,  what  shall  I  do  for  you  ?  Am  I  so  unworthy  before 
God  and  men  that  I  cannot  help  you  ?  Is  it  a  crime  to  have 
been  born  in  Ireland  ?  2  And  have  we  not  the  same  God  as 
they  have  ?  I  sorrow  for  you,  yet  I  rejoice,  for  if  ye  are  taken 
from  the  world  ye  are  believers  through  me,  and  are  gone  to 
Paradise." 

1  It  is  printed  by  Haddan  and  Stubbs,  "  Councils,"  etc.,  vol.  ii.  p.  314. 

2  This  is  certainly  the  first  time  on  record  that  this  question— so  often 
repeated  since  in  so  many  different  forms — was  asked. 

K 


146     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

The  "Cry  of  the  Deer,"  or  "Lorica,"  as  it  is  also  called,  is  in 
Irish.  The  saint  is  said  to  have  made  it  when  on  his  way  to 
visit  King  Laoghaire  [Leary]  at  Tara,  and  the  assassins  who 
had  been  planted  by  the  king  to  slay  him  and  his  companions 
thought  as  he  chanted  this  hymn  that  it  was  a  herd  of  deer 
that  passed  them  by,  and  thus  they  escaped.  The  metre  of 
the  original  is  a  kind  of  unrhymed  or  half-rhymed  rhapsody, 
called  in  Irish  a  Rosg,  and  is  perfectly  unadorned.  The 
language,  however,  though  very  old,  has  of  course  been 
modified  in  the  process  of  transcription.  Patrick  calls  upon 
the  Trinity  to  protect  him  that  day  at  Tara,  and  to  bind  to 
him  the  power  of  the  elements. 

I  bind  me  to-day  x 

God's  might  to  direct  me, 
God's  power  to  protect  me, 
God's  wisdom  for  learning, 
God's  eye  for  discerning, 
God's  ear  for  my  hearing, 
God's  word  for  my  clearing, 
God's  hand  for  my  cover, 
God's  path  to  pass  over, 
God's  buckler  to  guard  me, 
God's  army  to  ward  me, 

Against  snares  of  the  devils, 

Against  vices,  temptations, 

1  See  the  original  in  Windsch's  "  Irische  Texte,"  I.  p.  53,  and  Todd's 
"  Liber  Hymnorum  " — 

"  Atomrigh  indiu  niurt  De  dom  luamaracht 
Cumachta  De  dom  chumgabail 
Ciall  De  domm  imttms 
Rose  De  dom  reimcise, 
Cluas  De  dom  estecht 
Briathar  De  dom  erlabrai, 
Lam  De  domm  imdegail 
Intech  De  dom  remthechtas. 
Sciath  De  dom  ditin 
Sochraite  De  domm  anucul 
Ar  intledaib  demna 
Ar  aslaigthib  dualche 
Ar  cech  nduine  miduthrastar  dam, 
icein  ocus  i  n-ocus 
i  n-uathed  ocus  hi  sochaide,"  etc. 


ST.  PATRICK  AND  EARLY  MISSIONARIES  147 

Against  wrong  inclinations, 
Against  men  who  plot  evils 

To  hurt  me  anew, 
Anear  or  afar  with  many  or  few. 

Christ  near,  Christ  here, 

Christ  be  with  me, 

Christ  beneath  me, 

Christ  within  me, 

Christ  behind  me, 

Christ  be  o'er  me, 

Christ  before  me, 
Christ  in  the  left  and  the  right, 

Christ  hither  and  thither, 

Christ  in  the  sight, 
Of  each  eye  that  shall  seek  me," *  etc. 

In  the  Book  ot  Armagh,  in  the  last  chapter  of  Tirechan's 
life,  St.  Patrick  is  declared  to  be  entitled  to  four  honours  in 
every  church  and  monastery  of  the  island.  One  of  these 
honours  was  that  the  hymn  written  by  St.  Seachnall,  his 
nephew,  in  praise  of  himself,  was  to  be  sung  in  the  churches 
during  the  days  when  his  festival  was  being  celebrated,  and 
another  was  that  "  his  Irish  canticle  "  was  to  be  always  sung,2 
apparently  all  the  year  through,  in  the  liturgy,  but  perhaps  only 
during  the  week  of  his  festival.  The  Irish  canticle  is  evidently 

1  Thus  translated  almost  literally  by  Dr.  Sigerson,  "  Bards  of  the  Gael 
and  Gall,"  p.  138.    This  is  not  the  only  poem  attributed  to  St.  Patrick, 
several  others  are  ascribed  to  him  in  the  "Tripartite  Life,"  and  a  MS.  in  the 
Bibliotheque  Royale  contains  three  others.     Eight  lines  of  one  of  them  is 
found  in  the  Vatican  Codex  of  Mananus  .Scotus  and  are  given  by  Zeuss 
in  his  "  Grammatica  Celtica,"  p.  961,  second  edition.   The  lines  there  given 
refer  to  St.  Brigit.    There  is  also  a  rann  attributed  to  St.  Patrick  quoted 
by  the  "Four  Masters," and  the  "Chronicon  Scotorum"  attributes  to  him  a 
rann  on  Bishop  Ere. 

2  "  Canticum  ejus  scotticum  semper  canere,"  which  a  marginal  note  in 
the  book  explains  as  Ymnns  Comanulo,  which  Father  Hogan  interprets  as 
proteciio  Clamoris,  adding  "ac  proinde  synonymavoci  Faith  Fiada,"  which 
has  been  interpreted  clamor cnstodis  or  "The  Guardsman's  Cry  "  by  Stokes. 
The  poem,  then,  was  extant  in  the  seventh  century,  was  attributed  to  St. 

itrick,  and  was  sung  in   the    churches — a  strong   argument  for  its 
thenticity. 


148      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

this  "  Lorica,"  which  was,  as  we  see  from  this  notice  in  the 
Book  of  Armagh,  believed  to  be  his  in  the  seventh  century, 
and  it  has  been  sung  under  that  belief  from  that  day  almost  to 
our  own.1 

The  other  hymn,  the  singing  of  which  at  his  festival  is 
alluded  to  as  one  of  St.  Patrick's  "  honours,"  was  composed 
by  Seachnall  [Shaughnal],2  a  nephew  of  St.  Patrick's,  in  lauda- 
tion of  the  saint  himself.  It  is  a  very  interesting  piece  of 
rough  latinity,  and  is  generally  regarded  as  genuine.  The 
occasion  of  its  composition  deserves  to  be  told,  for  it  casts  a 
ray  of  light  on  the  prudential  and  self-restrained  side  of  St. 
Patrick's  character,  which  no  doubt  contributed  largely  to  his 
success  when  working  in  the  midst  of  his  wavering  converts. 
Seachnall  said  that  Patrick's  preaching  would  be  perfect  if  he 
only  insisted  a  little  more  on  the  necessity  of  giving,  for  then 
more  property  and  land  would  be  at  the  disposal  of  the  Church 
for  pious  uses.  This  remark  of  his  nephew  was  repeated  to 
St.  Patrick,  who  was  very  much  annoyed  at  it,  and  said 
beautifully,  that  "  for  the  sake  of  charity  he  forbore  to  preach 
charity,"  and  intimated  that  the  holy  men  who  should  come 
after  him  might  benefit  by  the  offerings  of  the  faithful  which 
he  had  left  untouched.  Then  Seachnall,  grieved  at  having 
thus  pained  his  uncle,  and  anxious  to  win  his  regard  again, 

1  "  Even  to  this  day,"  says  Dr.  Healy,  in  "  Ireland's  Ancient  Schools  and 
Scholars,"  p.  77,  "  the  original  is  chanted  by  the  peasantry  of  the  south 
and  west  in  the  ancestral  tongue,  and  it  is  regarded  as  ;i  strong  shield 
against  all  dangers  natural  or   supernatural."     I,  myself,  however,  in 
collecting  the  "  Religious  Songs  of  Connacht,"  have  found  no  trace  of  this, 
and   I   am  not  sure  that  the  learned   Bishop  of  Clonfert,  led  astray  by 
Petrie,  is  not  here  confounding  it  with  the  "  Marainn  Phadraig,"  which 
mysterious  piece  is  implicitly  believed  to  be  the  work  of  St.  Patrick, 
and  is  still  recited  all  over  the  west,  with  the  belief  that  there  is  a  peculiar 
virtue  attached  to  it.    I  have  even  known  money  to  have  been  paid  for  its 
recital  in  the  west  of  Gal  way,  as  a  preventive  of  evil.     For  this  curious 
piece,  which  is  to  me  at  least  more  than  half  unintelligible,   see  my 

'  Religious  Songs  of  Connacht."  It  appears  to  have  been  founded  upon 
an  incident  similar  to  that  recorded  by  Muirchu  Maccu  Machteni,  book 
.  chap.  26. 

2  Of  Dunshaughlin  recte  Dunsaughnil  (Domhnach  Seachnaill)  in  Meath. 


ST.  PATRICK  AND  EARLY  MISSIONARIES  149 

composed  a  poem  of  twenty-two  stanzas  each  beginning  with  a 
different  letter,  with  four  lines  of  fifteen  syllables  in  each  verse.1 
When  he  had  done  this  he  asked  permission  of  Patrick  to 
recite  to  him  a  poem  which  he  had  composed  in  praise  of  a 
holy  man,  and  when  Patrick  said  that  he  would  gladly  hear 
the  praises  of  any  of  God's  household,  the  poet  adroitly 
suppressing  Patrick's  name  which  occurs  in  the  first  verse, 
recited  it  for  him.  Patrick  was  pleased,  but  interupted  the 
poet  at  one  stanza  when  he  said  that  the  subject  of  his  lauda- 
tions was  maximus  in  regno  cezlorumf  "the  greatest  in  the 
kingdom  of  heaven,"  asking  how  could  that  be  said  of  any 

1  As  this  was  probably  the  first  poem  in  Latin  ever  composed  in  Ireland, 
it  deserves  some  consideration.  It  is  a  sort  of  trochaic  tetrameter  cata- 
lectic,  of  the  very  rudest  type.  The  ictus,  or  stress  of  the  voice,  which  is 
supposed  to  fall  on  the  first  syllable  of  the  first,  third,  fifth,  and  seventh 
feet,  seldom  corresponds  with  the  accent.  The  elision  of  "m"  before  a  vowel 
is  disregarded,  no  quantities  are  observed,  and  the  solitary  rule  of  prosody 
kept  is  that  the  second  syllable  of  the  seventh  foot  is  always  short,  with 
the  exception  of  one  word,  indutus,  which  the  poet  probably  pronounced 
as  indiitus.  The  third  verse  runs  thus,  with  an  evident  effort  at  vowel 
rhyme  ("  Liber  Hymnorum,"  vol.  i.  p.  n). 

"Beati  Christi  custodit  mandata  in  omnibus 
Cujus  opera  refulgent  clara  inter  homines." 

Muratori  printed  this  hymn,  from  the  so-called  Antiphonary  of  Bangor, 
a  MS.  of  the  eight  century  preserved  in  the  Ambrosian  Library.  The 
rude  metre  is  that  employed  by  Hilary  in  his  hymn  beginning — 

"  Ymnum  dicat  turba  fratrum,  ymnum  cantus  personet," 

which,  as  Stokes  points  out,  is  the  same  as  that  of  the  Roman  soldiers, 
preserved  in  Suetonius, 

"  Cassar  Gallias  subegit,  Nicomedes  Caesarem." 

The  internal  evidence  of  the  antiquity  of  this  hymn  is  "  strong,"  says 
Stokes,  "first,  the  use  of  the  present  tense  in  describing  the  saint's  actions  ; 
secondly,  the  absence  of  all  reference  to  the  miracles  with  which  the 
Tripartite  and  other  lives  are  crowded  ;  and,  thirdly,  the  absence  of  all 
allusion  to  the  Roman  mission  on  which  many  later  writers  from  Tirechan 
downwards  insist  with  much  persistency."  We  may  then,  I  think,  receive 
this  hymn  as  authentic. 

2  "  Maximus  namque  in  regno  caslorum  vocabitur, 

§ui  quod  verbis  docet  sacris  factis  adimplet  bonis  ; 
ono  procedit  exemplo  formamque  fidelium 
Mundoque  in  corde  habet  ad  Deum  fiduciam." 


ISO     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

man.  Maximusy  ingeniously  replied  Seachnall,  does  not  here 
mean  "greatest,"  but  only  "very  great."  He  then  disclosed  to 
his  uncle  that  he  himself  was  the  object  of  the  poem,  and 
asked — like  all  bards — for  the  reward  for  it,  whereupon  Patrick 
promised  that  to  all  who  recited  the  hymn  piously  morning 
and  evening,  God  in  His  mercy  might  give  the  glory  of 
heaven.  "I  am  content  with  that  award," said  the  poet,  "but 
as  the  hymn  is  long  and  difficult  to  be  remembered  I  wish  you 
would  obtain  the  same  reward  for  whosoever  recites  even  a  part 
of  it."  Whereupon  St.  Patrick  promised  that  the  recitation 
of  the  last  three  verses  would  be  sufficient,  and  his  nephew 
was  satisfied,  having  proved  himself  the  first  poet  of  Christian 
Ireland,  and  having  obtained  such  a  reward  for  his  verses  as 
neither  bard  nor  ollav  had  ever  obtained  before  him.  It  was 
probably  this  same  Seachnall  who  was  the  author  of  the  much 
finer  hymn  of  eleven  verses  which  used  to  be  sung  in  the  old 
Irish  churches  at  communion — 

"  Sancti  venite 

Christ!  corpus  sumitc, 
Sanctum  bibentes 
Quo  redempti  sanguinem. 
Salvati  Christ! 

Corpore  et  sanguine, 
A  quo  refect! 
Laudes  dicamus  Deo. 

Hoc  sacramento 

Corporis  et  sanguinis 

Omnes  exuti 

Ab  inferni  faucibus,"  etc. 

The  legend  in  the  Leabhar  Breac  has  it  that  this  hymn  was 
first  chanted  during  the  holy  communion  by  the  angels  in 
his  church,  on  the  reconciliation  between  himself  and  Saint 
Patrick,  whence  the  origin  of  chanting  it  during  the  com- 
munion service. 

The  Book  of  Armagh  contains  the  two  earliest  lives  of 
the  national  saint  that  we  have,  probably  the  two  earliest 


ST.  PATRICK  AND  EARLY  MISSIONARIES  151 

biographies  of  any  size  ever  composed  in  Ireland.  They  are 
written  in  rude  Latin,  with  a  good  deal  of  Irish  place-names 
and  Irish  words  intermixed,  the  first  by  one  Muirchu  Maccu 
Machteni,1  who  tells  us  that  he  wrote  at  the  instigation  of 
Aed,  bishop  of  Sletty,  who,  as  we  know  from  the  "  Four 
Masters,"  died  about  698,  and  the  second  by  Tirechan,  who 
says  he  received  his  knowledge  of  the  saint  from  the  lips  and 
writings  of  Bishop  Ultan,2  his  tutor,  who  died  in  656,  and 
who,  supposing  him  to  have  been  seventy  or  eighty  years  old 
at  the  time  of  his  death,  must  have  been  born  only  eighty  or 
ninety  years  after  the  death  of  St.  Patrick  himself.  Both  of 
these  writers  appear  to  have  had  older  memoirs  to  draw  on, 
for  Muirchu  says  that  many  had  before  them  endeavoured  to 
write  the  history  of  St.  Patrick  from  what  their  fathers  and 
those  who  were  ministers  of  the  Word  from  the  beginning 
had  told  them,  though  none  had  ever  succeeded  in  producing  a 
proper  biography,  3  and  in  Tirechan's  life  of  him  in  the  Book 
of  Armagh  —  an  evident  patchwork  —  we  read  that  all  his 
godly  doings  had  been  brought  together 4  and  collected  by  the 

1  In  the  "  Martyrology  of  Tallaght "  this  curious  name  is  written  Mac 
hui  Machteni,  i.e.,  the  son  of  the  grandson  of  Machtenus,  or  Muirchu,  i.e., 
Murrough,  descendant  of  Machtenus,  and  the  Leabhar  Breac  has  this 
note  at  the  name  of  Muirchu :  "  civitas  ejus  in  uib  Foelan,  i.e.,  mac  hui 
Mathcene,"  thereby  giving  us  to  understand  that  he  was  a  native  of  what 
is  the  present  county  of  Waterford.     Maccumachteni  is  not  a  surname, 
for  these  were  not  introduced  into  Ireland  for  three  centuries  later. 

2  "  Omnia  quse  scripsi  a  principio  libri  hujus  scitis  quia  in   vestris 
regionibus  gesta  sunt,  nizi  de  eis  pauca  inveni  in  utilitatem  laboris  mei 
a  senioribus  multis,  ac  ab  illo  Ultano  episcopo  Conchubernensi  qui  nutrivit 
me,  retulit  sermo  !  " 

3  "  Multos  jam  conatos  esse  ordinare  narrationem  istam   secundum 
quod  patres  eorum  et  qui  ministri  ab  initio  fuerunt  sermonis  tradiderunt 
illis ;  sed  propter  difficillimum  narrationis  opus  diversasque  opiniones  et 
plurimorum  plurimas  suspiciones  nunquam  ad  unum  certumque  historiae 
tramitem  pervenisse." 

4  "Omnia  in  Deo  gesta  ab  antiquis  peritissimis  adunata  atque  collecta 
sunt ; "  and  again  :  "  Post  e?dtum  Patricii  alumpni  sui  valde  ejusdem  libros 
conscripserunt ; "  but  this  may  mean  that  they  made  copies  of  the  books 
left  behind  him. 


152      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

most  skilful  of  the  ancients.  The  first  of  these  lives  consists 
of  two  books  containing  twenty-eight  and  thirteen  short 
chapters,  respectively,  the  second,  Tirechan's,  of  one  book 
containing  fifty-seven  chapters,  in  addition  to  which  there  are 
a  number  of  minor  notes  referring  to  St.  Patrick  in  Latin  and 
in  Irish,  which  Ferdomnach,  who  transcribed  the  book  in  807, 
appears  to  have  taken  from  other  old  lives  or  memoirs  of 
the  saint.  The  Irish  portions  of  these  notes  are  of  peculiar 
interest,  as  showing  what  the  Irish  language  was,  as  written 
about  the  year  800. 1 

If  it  is  genuine  the  earliest  life  of  Patrick  ever  written 
would  probably  be  the  brief  metrical  life  ascribed  to  Fiacc 
of  Sletty,  the  sixth  or  seventh  in  descent  from  Cathaoir 
[Cauheer]  Mor,  who  was  king  of  Leinster  at  the  close  of 
the  second  century.2  His  mother  was  a  sister  of  Dubhthach's 
[Duv-hach],  the  chief  poet  and  Brehon  of  Ireland,  who,  we  are 
told,  helped  St.  Patrick  to  review  and  revise  the  Brehon  Laws. 
Fiacc  was  a  youthful  poet  in  Dubhthach's  train  at  Tara. 
Afterwards  he  was  tonsured  by  St.  Patrick,  became  Bishop 
of  Sletty,  and  on  Patrick's  death  is  said  to  have  written 
his  life,  and  not  forgetful  of  his  former  training,  to  have 
written  it  in  elaborate  verse.3  So  famous  a  critic  as  Zimmer 
believed  half  the  poem  to  be  genuine,  but  Thurneysen  rejects 

1  Here  is  a  specimen  :  "  Dulluid  patricc  othemuir  hicrich  Laigen  con- 
rancatar  ocus  dubthach  mucculugir  uccdomnuch  mar  criathar  la  auu 
censelich.  Aliss  patricc  dubthach  imdamnae  .n.  epscuip  diadesciplib 
dilaignib  idon  fer  soer  socheniuil  cenon  cenainim  nadip  ru  becc  nadi- 
promar  bedasommae,  toisclimm  fer  oinsetche  dunarructhae  actoentuistiu," 
which  would  run  some  way  thus  in  the  modern  language  :  "  Do  luid 
(i.e.,  Chuaidh)  Padraic  6  Theamhair  i  gcrich  Laighean  go  rancadar  [fein] 
agus  Dubhthach  Mac  Lugair  ag  Domhnach  Mor  Criathair  le  uibh  Ceinn- 
sealaigh.  Ailis  (i.e.,  fiafruighis)  Padraic  Dubhthach  um  damhna  (i.e., 
adhbhar)  easboig  d'  a  dheiscioblaibh,  eadhoin  fear  saor  soi-chineail,  gan 
on  gan  ainimh  (i.e.,  truailiughadh),  nar  'bh  ro  bheag  [agus]  nar  'bh 
romhor,  a  shaidhbhreas  (?).  Toisg  [riachtanus]  liom  fear  aon  seitche 
[mna]  d'a  nach  rugadh  acht  aon  tuistui  (gein),"  etc. 

9  For  Cathaoir  Mor,  see  p.  30. 

3  The  metre  was  called  Cctal  nothi,  Thurneysen's  "  Mittelirische  Vers- 
lehren,"  p.  63.  It  scarcely  differs  in  most  parts  from  Little  Rannaigheacht. 


ST.  PATRICK  AND  EARLY  MISSIONARIES  153 

it    because   it   does   not    fall    in    with   his   theories   of  Irish 
metre.1 

But  the  longest  and  most  important  life  of  St.  Patrick 
is  that  known  as  the  Tripartite,  or  Triply-divided  Life, 
which  is  really  a  series  of  three  semi-historical  homilies,  or 
discourses,  which  were  probably  delivered  in  honour  of  the 
saint  on  the  three  festival  days  devoted  to  his  memory,  that  is, 
the  Vigil,  the  Feast  itself,  on  March  lyth,  and  the  day  after, 
or  else  the  Octave.  This  Tripartite  life,  which  is  a  fairly 
complete  one,  is  written  in  ancient  Irish,  with  many  passages 
of  Latin  interspersed.  The  monk  Jocelin,  who  wrote  a  life 
of  the  saint  in  the  twelfth  century,  tells  us  that  St.  Evin2 
—from  whom  Monasterevin,  in  Queen's  County,  is  called, 
a  saint  of  the  early  sixth  century — wrote  a  life  of  Patrick 
partly  in  Latin  and  partly  in  Gaelic,  and  Colgan,  the  learned 
Franciscan  who  translated  the  Tripartite  in  his  "Trias 
Thaumaturga,"  3  believed  that  this  was  the  very  life  which 
St.  Evin  wrote.  Colgan  found  the  Tripartite  life  in  three  very 
ancient  Gaelic  MSS.,  procured  for  him,  no  doubt,  by  the  un- 
wearied research  of  Brother  Michael  O'Clery  in  the  early  part  of 
the  seventeenth  century,  which  he  collated  one  with  the  other, 
and  of  which  he  gives  the  following  noteworthy  account : — 

"  The  first  thing  to  be  observed  is  that  it  has  been  written  by  its 
first  author  and  in  the  aforesaid  manuscript,  partly  in  Latin,  partly 


1  See  "  Keltische  Studien,"   Heft  ii.,  and  the  "  Revue  Celtique."    The 
first  verses  run  thus  : — 

"  Genair  Patraicc  in  Nemthur 
Is  ed  atfet  hi  scelaib 
Maccan  se  mbliadan  deac 
In  tan  dobreth  fo  deraib. 

Succat  a  ainm  itubrad 
Ced  a  athair  ba  fissi 
Mac  Calpairn  male  Otide 
Hoa  deochain  Odissi." 

2  He  was  tenth  in  descent  from  that  Owen  Mor  who  wrested  half  the 
sovereignty  of  Ireland  from  Conn,  of  the  Hundred  Battles. 

3  I.e.,  "  The  wonder-working  Three,"  containing  the  lives  of   Patrick, 
Brigit,  and  Columcille,  translated  by  Colgan  from  Irish  into  Latin. 


154     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

in  Gaelic,  and  this  in  very  ancient  language,  almost  impenetrable 
by  reason  of  its  very  great  antiquity,  exhibiting  not  only  in  the  same 
chapter,  but  also  in  the  same  line,  alternate  phrases  now  in  the  Latin, 
now  in  the  Gaelic  tongue.  In  the  second  place,  it  is  to  be  noticed 
that  this  life,  on  account  of  the  very  great  antiquity  of  its  style, 
which  was  held  in  much  regard,  used  to  be  read  in  the  schools  of 
our  antiquarians  in  the  presence  of  their  pupils,  being  elucidated 
and  expounded  by  the  glosses  of  the  masters,  and  by  interpretations 
of  and  observations  on  the  more  abstruse  words ;  so  that  hence  it 
is  not  to  be  wondered  at  that  some  words — which  certainly  did 
happen— gradually  crept  from  these  glosses  into  the  texts,  and  thus 
brought  a  certain  colour  of  newness  into  this  most  ancient  and 
faithful  author,  some  things  being  turned  from  Latin  into  Gaelic, 
some  abbreviated  by  the  scribes,  and  some  altogether  omitted." 

Colgan  further  tells  us  that,  "of  the  three  MSS.  above 
mentioned,  the  first  and  chief  is  from  very  ancient  vellums  of 
the  O'Clerys,  antiquarians  in  Ulster ;  the  second  from  the 
O'Deorans,  of  Leinster  ;  the  third  taken  from  I  know  not 
what  codex  ;  and  they  differ  from  each  other  in  some  respects  ; 
one  relating  more  diffusely  what  is  more  close  in  the  others, 
and  one  relating  in  Latin  what  in  the  others  was  told  in 
Gaelic ;  but  we  have  followed  the  authority  of  that  which 
relates  the  occurrences  more  diffusely  and  in  Latin."  O'Curry 
discovered  in  the  British  Museum  a  copy  of  this  life,  made  in 
the  fifteenth  century,  and  it  has  since  been  admirably  edited  by 
Dr.  Whitley  Stokes,  who,  however,  does  not  believe  for  philo- 
logical and  other  reasons,  that  it  could  have  been  written  before 
the  middle  of  the  tenth  century.  If  so  it  is  no  doubt  a 
compilation  of  all  the  pre-existing  lives  of  the  saint,  and  it 
mentions  distinctly  that  six  different  writers,  not  counting 
Fiacc  the  poet,  had  collected  the  events  of  St.  Patrick's  life 
and  his  miracles,  amongst  whom  were  St.  Columcille,  who 
died  in  592,  and  St.  Ultan,  who  died  in  656.!  It  is  hardly 

1  Also  St.  Aileran  the  Wise,  whose  "  Fragments "  are  published  by 
Migne  ;  St.  Adamnan,  the  author  of  the  "  Life  of  Columcille "  ;  St. 
Ciaran  of  Belach-Duin  ;  and  St.  Colman.  Jocelyn  says  that  Benignus, 
who  died  in  468,  wrote  another  life  of  Patrick,  but  of  it  nothing  is  known. 


ST.  PATRICK  AND  EARLY  MISSIONARIES  155 

necessary,  however,  to  say  that  in  the  matter  of  all  anonymous 
Gaelic  writings  like  the  present,  it  is  difficult  to  decide  with 
any  certainty  as  to  age  or  date.  The  occurrence,  indeed,  of 
very  old  forms,  shows  that  the  sentences  containing  those  old 
forms  were  first  written  at  an  early  period  ;  the  occurrence  of 
more  modern  forms,  however,  is  no  proof  that  the  passages 
containing  them  were  first  written  in  modern  times,  for  the 
words  may  have  been  altered  by  later  transcribers  into  the 
language  they  spoke  themselves ;  nor  are  allusions  to  events 
which  we  know  were  later  than  the  date  of  an  alleged  writer, 
a/ways  conclusive  proofs  that  the  work  which  contains  them 
cannot  be  his  work,  for  such  allusions  constantly  creep  into 
the  margin  of  books  at  the  hands  of  copyists,  especially  if  those 
books  were — as  Colgan  says  the  Tripartite  life  was — annotated 
and  explained  in  schools.  In  cases  of  this  kind  there  is  always 
considerable  latitude  to  be  allowed  to  destructive  and  con- 
structive criticism,  and  at  the  end  matters  must  still  remain 
doubtful. * 

So  much  for  the  more  important  lives  of  St.  Patrick,  the 
first  known  litterateur  of  Ireland. 

1  Here  is  a  short  passage  from  the  Tripartite,  which  will  show  the 
language  in  which  it  is  written  :  "  Fecht  ann  occ  tuidhecht  do  Patraic 
do  Chlochur  antuaith  da  fuarcaib  a  thren-fher  dar  doraid  and,  i.e.,  Epscop 
mac  Cairthind.  Issed  adrubart  iar  turcbail  Patraic :  uch  uch.  Mu 
Debroth,  ol  Patraic  ni  bu  gnath  in  foculsin  do  rad  duitsiu.  Am  senoir 
ocus  am  lobur  ol  Epscop  Mac  Cairthind,"  which  would  run  some  way 
thus  in  the  modern  language  :  "  Feacht  [uair]  do  bhi  ann,  ag  tigheacht 
do  Phadraig  go  Clochar  (i  gcondae,  Tir-Eoghain)  on  tuaidh,  d'  iomchair 
a  threan-fhear  e  thar  sruth  do  bhi  ann,  eadhoin  Easbog  Mac  Cairthind. 
Is  eadh  adubhairt  tar  eis  Padraig  do  thogbhail  "  Uch,  uch  !  "  Mo  Dhebh- 
roth  [focal  do  bhi  ag  Padraig,  ionnann  agus  "  dar  mo  laimh  "  no  mar 
sin],  nior  ghnath  an  focal  sin  do  radh  duit-se.  Taim  im  sheanoir  agus 
im  lobhar  ar  Easbog  Mac  Cairthind.  See  O'Curry  MS.  Materials,  p.  598. 


CHAPTER  XIV 

ST.    BRIGIT 

ST.  BRIGIT  was — after  St.  Patrick  himself — probably  the  most 
noted  figure  amongst  Irish  Christians  in  the  fifth  century. 
She  must  have  attained  her  extraordinary  influence  through 
sheer  ability  and  intellectuality,  for  she  appears  to  have  been 
the  daughter  of  a  slave- woman,1  employed  in  the  mansion  of 
a  chief  called  Dubhthach  [Duv-hach,  or  Duffach],  who  was 
himself  tenth  in  descent  from  Felimidh,  the  lawgiver  monarch 
of  Ireland  in  the  second  century.  The  king's  wife,  jealous  of 
her  husband's  liking  for  his  slave,  threatened  him  with  these 
words,  "  Unless  thou  sellest  yon  bondmaid  in  distant  lands  I 
will  exact  my  dowry  from  thee  and  I  will  leave  thee,"  and  so 
had  her  driven  from  the  place  and  sold  to  a  druid,  in  whose 
house  her  daughter,  Dubhthach's  offspring,  soon  afterwards  saw 
the  light.  She  was  thus  born  into  slavery,  though  not  quite 
a  slave  ;  for  Dubhthach,  in  selling  the  mother  into  slavery, 
expressly  reserved  for  himself  her  offspring,  whatever  it 
might  be.  She  must  have  been,  at  least,  early  inured  to 
hardship,  as  St.  Patrick  had  been.  The  druid,  however,  did 

1  Cogitosus,   who  probably  wrote    in    the    beginning  of    the  eighth 
century,  makes  no  allusion  to  her  slave-parentage,  but  this  was  to  be 
expected. 
156 


ST.  BRIGIT  157 

not  prevent  her  from  being  baptized.  She  grew  up  to  be  a 
girl  of  exceeding  beauty,  and  many  suitors  sought  her  in 
marriage.  She  returned  to  her  father's  house,  but  refused  all 
offers  of  matrimony.  She  aroused  the  jealousy  of  her  father's 
wife,  as  her  mother  had  done  before  her,  and  Dubhthach, 
indignant  at  her  unbounded  generosity  with  his  goods,  decided 
upon  selling  her  to  the  king  of  North  Leinster.  Her  father's 
abortive  attempt  to  get  rid  of  her  on  this  occasion  is  thus 
quaintly  described  in  her  Irish  life  in  the  Leabhar  Breac. 

"Thereafter,"  says  the  life,  "Dubhthach  and  his  consort  were 
minded  to  sell  the  holy  Brigit  into  bondage,  for  Dubhthach  liked 
not  his  cattle  and  his  wealth  to  be  dealt  out  to  the  poor,  and  that  is 
what  Brigit  used  to  do.  So  Dubhthach  fared  in  his  chariot  and 
Brigit  along  with  him. 

"  Said  Dubhthach  to  Brigit, '  Not  for  honour  or  reverence  to  thee 
art  thou  carried  in  a  chariot,  but  to  take  thee,  to  sell  thee  to  grind 
the  quern  for  Dunlang  mac  Enda,  King  of  Leinster.' 

"When  they  came  to  the  King's  fortress  Dubhthach  went  in  to 
the  king,  and  Brigit  remained  in  her  chariot  at  the  fortress  door. 
Dubhthach  had  left  his  sword  in  the  chariot  near  Brigit.  A  leper 
came  to  Brigit  to  ask  an  alms.  She  gave  him  Dubhthach's  sword. 

"Said  Dubhthach  to  the  King,  'Wilt  thou  buy  a  bondmaid, 
namely,  my  daughter  ? '  says  he. 

"  Said  Dunlang,  '  Why  sellest  thou  thine  own  daughter  ? ' 

"  Said  Dubhthach,  '  She  stayeth  not  from  selling  my  wealth  and 
from  giving  it  to  the  poor.3 

"  Said  the  King,  '  Let  the  maiden  come  into  the  fortress.' 

"  Dubhthach  went  to  Brigit,  and  was  enraged  against  her  because 
she  had  given  his  sword  to  the  poor  man. 

"When  Brigit  came  into  the  King's  presence  the  King  said  to 
her,  '  Since  it  is  thy  father's  wealth  that  thou  takest,  much  more 
wilt  thou  take  my  wealth  and  my  cattle  and  give  them  to  the  poor.' 

"  Said  Brigit,  '  The  Son  of  the  Virgin  knoweth  if  I  had  thy  might, 
with  all  Leinster,  and  with  all  thy  wealth,  I  would  give  them  to  the 
Lord  of  the  Elements.' 

"  Said  the  King  to  Dubhthach,  '  Thou  art  not  fit  on  either  hand 
to  bargain  about  this  maiden,  for  her  merit  is  higher  before  God 
than  before  men/  and  the  King  gave  Dubhthach  an  ivory-hilted  sword 
(Claideb  det],  et  sic  liberata  est  sancta  Virgo  Brigita  a  captivititate.1" 

'  See  Stokes,  «  Three  Middle  Irish  Homilies." 


158     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

She  at  length  succeeded  in  assuming  the  veil  of  a  nun  at 
the  hands  of  a  bishop  called  Mucaille,  along  with  seven  virgin 
companions.  With  these  she  eventually  retired  into  her 
father's  territory  and  founded  a  church  at  Kildare,  beside  an 
ancient  oak-tree,  which  existed  till  the  tenth  century,  and 
which  gives  its  name  to  the  spot.1  Even  at  this  early 
period  Kildare  seems  to  have  been  a  racecourse,  and  St.  Brigit 
is  described  in  the  ancient  lives  as  driving  across  it  in  her 
chariot. 

It  is  remarkable  that  there  is  scarcely  any  mention  of  St. 
,  Brigit  in  the  lives  of  St.  Patrick,  although,  according  to  the 
usual  chronology  they  were  partly  contemporaries,  St.  Brigit 
having  become  a  nun  about  the  year  467,  and  St.  Patrick 
having  lived  until  492.  About  the  only  mention  of  her  in  the 
saint's  life  is  that  which  tells  how  she  once  listened  to  Patrick 
preaching  for  three  nights  and  days,  and  fell  asleep,  and  as  she 
dreamt  she  saw  first  white  oxen  in  white  corn-fields,  and  then 
darker  ones  took  their  place,  and  lastly  black  oxen.  And 
thereafter,  she  beheld  sheep  and  swine,  and  dogs  and  wolves 
quarrelling  with  each  other,  and  upon  her  waking  up,  St. 
Patrick  explained  her  dream  as  being  symbolical  of  the  history 
of  the  Irish  Church  present  and  future.  The  life  of  Brigit 
herself  in  the  Book  of  Lismore  tells  the  vision  somewhat 
differently  : 

"  '  I  beheld,'  said  she,  to  Patrick,  when  he  asked  her  why  she  had 
fallen  asleep,  '  four  ploughs  in  the  north-east  which  ploughed  the 
whole  island,  and  before  the  sowing  was  finished  the  harvest  was 
ripened,  and  clear  well-springs  and  shiny  streams  came  out  of  the 
furrows.  White  garments  were  on  the  sowers  and  ploughmen.  I 
beheld  four  other  ploughs  in  the  north  which  ploughed  the  island 
athwart  and  turned  the  harvest  again,  and  the  oats  which  they  had 
sown  grew  up  at  once  and  were  ripe,  and  black  streams  came  out  of 
the  furrows,  and  there  were  black  garments  on  the  sowers  and  on  the 
ploughmen.' " 

1  Cill-dara,  the  "  Church  of  the  Oak-tree,"  now  Kildare. 


ST.  BRIG  IT  159 

This  vision  Patrick  explained  to  her,  saying — 

" '  The  first  four  ploughs  which  thou  beheldest,  those  are  I  and 
thou,  who  sow  the  four  books  of  the  gospel  with  a  sowing  of  faith  and 
belief  and  piety.  The  harvest  which  thou  beheldest  are  they  who 
come  unto  that  faith  and  belief  through  our  teaching.  The  four 
ploughs  which  thou  beheldest  in  the  north  are  the  false  teachers  and 
the  liars  which  will  overturn  the  teaching  which  we  have  sown.' " 

St.  Brigit's  small  oratory  at  Kildare,  under  the  shadow  of  her 
branching  oak,  soon  grew  into  a  great  institution,  and  within 
her  own  lifetime  two  considerable  religious  establishments 
sprang  up  there,  one  for  women  and  the  other  for  men.  She 
herself  selected  a  bishop  to  assist  her  in  governing  them,  and 
another  to  instruct  herself  and  her  nuns.  Long  before  her 
death,  which  occurred  about  the  year  525,  a  regular  city  and  a 
great  school  rivalling  the  fame  of  Armagh  itself,  had  risen 
round  her  oak-tree.  Cogitosus,  himself  one  of  the  Kildare 
monks,  who  wrote  a  Latin  life  of  St.  Brigit  at  the  desire  of  the 
community,  gives  us  a  fine  description  of  the  great  church  of 
Kildare  in  his  own  day,  which  was  evidently  some  time  prior 
to  the  Danish  invasion  at  the  close  of  the  eighth  century,1  but 
how  long  before  is  doubtful.  He  tells  us  that  the  church 
was  both  large  and  lofty,  with  many  pictures  and  hangings,  and 
with  ornamental  doorways,  and  that  a  partition  ran  across  the 
breadth  of  the  church  near  the  chancel  or  sanctuary  : 

"  At  one  of  its  extremities  there  was  a  door  which  admitted  the 
bishop  and  his  clergy  to  the  sanctuary  and  to  the  altar  ;  and  at  the 


1  He  himself  says,  "  Et  quis  sermone  explicate  potest  maximum  decorem 
hujus  ecclesiae  et  innumera  illius  civitatis  qui  dicemus  miracula  .  .  .  [hie] 
nullus  carnalis  adversarius  nee  concursus  timetur  hostium,  sed  civitas  est 
refugii  tutissima  .  .  .  et  quis  ennumerare  potest  diversas  turbas  et  in- 
numerabiles  populos  de  omnibus  provinciis  affluentes,  alii  ad  epularum 
abundantiam,  alii  languidi  propter  sanitates,  alii  ad  spectaculum  turbarum, 
alii  cum  magnis  donis  venientes  ad  solemnitatem  Nativitatis  S.  Brigitae 
quae  in  die  Calendarum  est,"  etc.  These  are  the  evident  outcome  of  the 
piping  times  of  peace  which  Ireland  enjoyed  in  the  seventh  and  eighth 
centuries.  It  would  have  been  impossible  to  have  written  in  this  way  after 
the  close  of  the  eighth  century.  See  chap.  36  of  Cogitosus's  life,  "  Trias 
Thaumaturga,"  p.  524  of  the  Louvain  edition. 


160     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

other  extremity  on  the  opposite  side  there  was  a  similar  door  by 
which  Brigit  and  her  virgins  and  widows  used  to  enter  to  enjoy  the 
banquet  of  the  Body  and  Blood  of  Christ.  Then  a  central  partition 
ran  down  the  nave,  dividing  the  men  from  the  women,  the  men 
being  on  the  right  and  the  women  on  the  left,  and  each 
division  having  its  own  lateral  entrance.  These  partitions  did 
not  rise  to  the  roof  of  the  church,  but  only  so  high  as  to  serve 
their  purpose.  The  partition  at  the  sanctuary  or  chancel  was  formed 
with  boards  of  wood  decorated  with  pictures  and  covered  with  linen 
hangings  which  might,  it  seems,  be  drawn  aside  at  the  consecration, 
to  give  the  people  in  the  nave  a  better  view  of  the  holy  mysteries."1 

The  two  institutions — nuns  and  monks — planted  by  St. 
Brigit  continued  long  to  flourish  side  by  side,  and  Kildare  is 
the  only  religious  establishment  in  Ireland,  says  Dr.  Healy, 
which  down  to  a  comparatively  recent  period  preserved  the 
double  line  of  succession,  of  abbot-bishops  and  of  abbesses.  The 
annalists  always  took  care  to  record  the  names  of  the  abbesses 
with  the  same  accuracy  as  those  of  the  abbots,  and  to  the  last 
the  abbesses  as  successors  of  St.  Brigit,  were  credited  with,  in 
public  opinion,  and  probably  enjoyed  in  fact,  a  certain 
supremacy  over  the  bishops  of  Kildare  themselves. 

Amongst  other  occupations  the  monks  and  scholars  of  Kildare 
seem  to  have  given  themselves  up  to  decorative  art,  and  a 
school  of  metal  work  under  the  supervision  of  Brigit's  first 
bishop  soon  sprang  into  existence,  producing  all  kinds  of 
artistically  decorated  chalices,  bells,  patens,  and  shrines  ;  and 
the  impulse  given  thus  early  to  artistic  work  and  to  beautiful 
creations  seems  to  have  long  propagated  itself  in  Kildare,  as 
the  description  of  the  church  by  Cogitosus  shows,  and  as  we 
may  still  conjecture  from  the  exquisite  round  tower  with  its 
unusually  ornamented  doorway  and  its  great  height  of  over  1 30 
feet,  the  loftiest  tower  of  the  kind  in  Ireland. 

1  Thus  well  summarised  by  Dr.  Healy  from  the  more  diffuse  Latin  of 
Cogitosus.  His  description  of  the  church  is  as  follows:  It  was  "solo 
spatiosa  et  in  altum  minaci  proceritate  porrecta  ac  decorata  pictis  tabulis, 
tria  intrinsecus  habens  oratoria  ampla,  et  divisa  parietibus  tabulatis."  One  of 
the  walls  was  "  decoratus,  et  imaginibus  depictus,  ac  linteaminibus  tectus." 


ST.  £  RIG  IT  161 

No  doubt  several  attributes  of  the  pagan  Brigit,1  who,  as  we 
have  seen,  was  accounted  by  the  ancient  Irish  to  have  been  the 
goddess  of  poets,  passed  over  to  her  Christian  namesake,  who 
was  also  credited  with  being  the  patroness  of  men  of  learning. 
On  this,  her  life  in  the  Book  of  Lismore  contains  the  following 
significant  and  rather  obscure  passage  : 

"  Brigit  was  once  with  her  sheep  on  the  Curragh,  and  she  saw 
running  past  her  a  son  of  reading,2  to  wit  Nindid  the  scholar  was  he. 

" '  What  makes  thee  unsedate,  O  son  of  reading  ? '  saith  Brigit, '  and 
what  seekest  thou  in  that  wise  ? ' 

" '  O  nun/  saith  the  scholar,  '  I  am  going  to  heaven.' 

"'The  Virgin's  son  knoweth/  said  Brigit,  'happy  is  he  that  goeth 
that  journey,  and  for  God's  sake  make  prayer  with  me  that  it  may  be 
easy  for  me  to  go.' 

" '  O  nun/  said  the  scholar,  '  I  have  no  leisure,  for  the  gates  of 
heaven  are  open  now  and  I  fear  they  may  be  shut  against  me.  Or, 
if  thou  art  hindering  me  pray  the  Lord  that  it  may  be  easy  for  me  to 
go  to  heaven,  and  I  will  pray  the  Lord  for  thee,  that  it  may  be  easy 
for  thee,  and  that  thou  mayest  bring  many  thousands  with  thee,  into 
heaven.' 

1  This  has  not  escaped  Windisch.  "  Wahrend,"  he  writes, "  Patrick  nur  der 
christlichen  Hagiologie  angehort,  scheint  Brigit  zugleich  die  Erbin  einer 
alien  heidnischen  Gottheit  zu  sein.     Ihr  Wesen  enthalt  Ziige  die  mehr 
als  eine  heilig  gesprochen  Nonne  hinter  ihr  vermuthen  lassen."    Windisch 
bases  this  chiefly  upon  the  expressions  in  Broccan's  hymn,  which  calls  her 
the  mother  of  Christ,  and  calls  Christ  her  son,  and  equates  her  with  Mary. 
The  passage  which  I  have  adduced  from  the  Irish  life  is  even  more 
remarkable  : 

"  Brigit,"  writes  Whitley  Stokes  "  (cp.  Skr.  bhargas)  was  born  at  sunrise 
neither  within  nor  without  a  house,  was  bathed  in  milk,  her  breath  revives 
the  dead,  a  house  in  which  she  is  staying  flames  up  to  heaven,  cow-dung 
blazes  before  her,  oil  is  poured  on  her  head  ;  she  is  fed  from  the  milk  of 
white  red-eared  cow  ;  a  fiery  pillar  rises  over  her  head  ;  sun  rays  support 
jr  wet  cloak  ;  she  remains  a  virgin  ;  and  she  was  one  of  the  two  mothers 
Christ  the  Anointed.  She  has,  according  to  Giraldus  Cambrensis,  a 
perpetual  ashless  fire  watched  by  twenty  nuns,  of  whom  herself  was  one, 
blown  by  fans  or  bellows  only,  and  surrounded  by  a  hedge  within  which 
no  male  could  enter  "  ("Top.  Hib."  chaps.  34, 35and36),from  all  which  Stokes 
declares  that  one  may  without  much  rashness  pick  out  certain  of  her  life- 
incidents,  as  having  "  originally  belonged  to  the  myth  or  the  ritual  of  some 
Idess  of  fire."  (See  preface  to  "Three  Middle  Irish  Homilies.") 

2  "  Mac-leighinn,"  which  is  to  this  day  a  usual  Irish  term  for  student. 


1 62      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

"  Brigit  recited  a  paternoster  with  him.  And  he  was  pious  thence- 
forward, and  it  is  he  that  gave  her  communion  and  sacrifice  when 
she  was  dying.  Wherefore  thence  it  came  to  pass  that  the  comradeship 
of  the  world's  sons  of  reading  is  with  Brigit,  and  the  Lord  gives  them 
through  Brigit  every  perfect  good  they  ask"  * 

/    As  St.  Patrick  is  pre-eminently  the  patron  saint  of  Ireland, 

/  so  is  Brigit  its  patroness,  and  with  the  Irish  people  no  Christian 

•    name  is  more  common  for  their  boys  than  Patrick,  or  for  their 

\girls  than  Brigit.2     She  was  universally  known  as  the  "Mary 

of  the  Gael,"  and  reverenced  with  a  certain  chivalric  feeling 

which  seems  to  have  been  always  present  with  the  Gaelic  nation 

in  the  case  of  women,  for,  says  her  Irish  life,  her  desire  "  was 

to  satisfy  the  poor,  to  expel  every  hardship,  to  spare  every 

miserable  man.  ...  It  is  she  that  helpeth  every  one  who  is  in 

a  strait  or  a  danger  ;  it  is  she  that  abateth  the  pestilences  ;  it  is 

she  that  quelleth  the  anger  and  the  storm  of  the  sea.     She  is 

the  prophetess  of  Christ  :  she  is  the  queen  of  the  south  :  She 

is  the  Mary  of  the  Gael"     The  writer  closes  thus  in  a  burst 

of  eloquence  : 

1  Thus  translated  by  Dr.  Whitley  Stokes  in  his  "  Lives  of  the  Saints 
from  the  Book  of  Lismore,"  p.  194.    In  the  original  :  "  Conid  assein  dorala 
cumthanus  mac  leighinn  in  domuin  re  Brigit,  co  tabair  in  coimdhi  doibh 
tria  atach  Brigte  gach  maith  fhoirbhthi  chuinghid." 

2  Or  to  speak  more  accurately  no  names  lyere  more  common,  but  owing 
to  the  action  of  various  influences,  particularly  of  the  National  Board, 
with  unsympathetic  persons  at  its  head,  and  of  the  men  who  direct 
the  modern  education  of  the  Irish,  the  people  who  are  not  allowed  by  tl 
National  Board  to  learn  history,  and  who  are  taught  to  despise  the  Irish 
language,  are  gradually  being  made  ashamed  of  any  names  that  are  not 
English,  and   Patrick  and  Brigit  almost  bid  fair  to  follow  the  way  of 
Cormac,  Cortn,  Felim,  Art,  Donough,  Fergus,  Diarmuid,  and  a  score 
other  Christian  names  of  men  in  common  use  a  century  ago,  but  run 
almost  wholly  extinct,  and  of  Meve,  Sive,  Eefi,  Sheela,  Nuala,  and  as  many 
more  female  names  now  nearly  or  completely  obsolete.    A  woman  of 
some  education  said  to  me  lately,  "  God  forbid  I  should  handicap  my 
daughter  in  life  by  calling  her  Brigit  ;  "  and  a  Catholic  bishop  said  th< 
other  day  that  too  often  when  an  Irish  parent  abroad  did  pluck  up  courage 
to  christen  his  son  "  Patrick,"  he  put  it  in,  in  a  shamefaced  whisper, 
the  end  of  several  other  names.    This  is  the  direct  result  of  the  teacl 
given  by  the  National  Board. 


ST.  BRIG  IT  163 

"  Her  relics  are  on  earth,  with  honour  and  dignity  and  primacy, 
with  miracles  and  marvels.  Her  soul  is  like  a  sun  in  the  heavenly 
kingdom,  among  the  choir  of  angels  and  archangels.  And  though 
great  be  her  honour  here  at  present,  greater  by  far  will  it  be  when 
she  shall  arise  like  a  shining  lamp,  in  completeness  of  body  and  soul 
at  the  great  Assembly  of  Doomsday,  in  union  with  cherubim  and 
seraphim,  in  union  with  the  Son  of  Mary  the  Virgin,  in  the  union 
that  is  nobler  than  every  union,  in  the  union  of  the  Holy  Trinity, 
Father,  Son,  and  Holy  Spirit." 

As  of  St.  Patrick,  so  of  his  great  co-evangeliser  St.  Brigit, 
there  exist  quite  a  number  of  various  lives  ;  the  most  ancient 
being  probably  a  metrical  life  in  Irish  contained  in  the  Book 
of  Hymns,  of  which  there  still  exists  an  eleventh  century  MS. 
It  consists  of  fifty-three  stanzas  of  four  lines  each,  and  is 
ascribed  to  St.  Broccan  or  Brogan  Cloen,  who  seems  to  have 
lived  at  the  beginning  of  the  seventh  century.1  This  life  does 
little  more  than  expatiate  upon  Brigit's  miracles  and  virtues. 
The  next  life  of  importance  is  that  already  mentioned,  by 
Cogitosus,  the  Kildare  monk,  whose  date  is  uncertain,  but  is 
clearly  prior  to  the  Danish  invasions.  This  life,  which  is  in 
very  creditable  Latin,  and  four  others,  were  printed  by  Colgan. 
The  first  of  these  four  is — probably  falsely — attributed  to  St. 
Ultan,  who  died  in  the  middle  of  the  seventh  century  ;  the 
next  is  by  a  monk  who  is  called  Animosus,  but  of  whom 

1  He  is  said  to  have  written  this  hymn  at  the  instigation  of  Ultan,  who 
died  in  653,  but,  as  Windisch  remarks,  mention  is  probably  made  of  Ultan 
only  because  he  is  said  to  have  been  the  first  to  collect  the  miracles  of 
Brigit — "die  Sprache,"  adds  Windisch,  uist  alterthiimlich  ;  besonders 
beachtenswerth  sind  die  ziemlich  zahlreichen  Perfectformen."  It  is  remark- 
able that  the  miracles  attributed  to  Brigit  are  given  in  the  same  order  in 
this  hymn  and  in  Cogitosus'  life  of  her.  The  metre  is  irregular. 

"  Xi  bu  Sanct  Brigit  suanach 

Ni  bu  huarach  im  seirc  De, 
Sech  ni  chiuir  ni  cossena 
Ind  noeb  dibad  bethath  che." 

The  life  by  Cogitosus  is  evidently  pre-Danish,  and  it  is  more  likely  to  be 
an  extension  of  the  short  metrical  one,  than  that  the  metrical  one  should 
be  a  resume  of  it.  If  this  is  so  it  bespeaks  a  considerable  antiquity  for  the 
Irish  verses. 


1 64     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

nothing  is  known,  though,  as  St.  Donatus,  who  became  bishop 
of  Fiesole  in  824,  alludes  to  his  works,  he  must  have  been  an 
early  author  ;  the  third  is  a  twelfth-century  work,  by  Laurence 
of  Durham,  an  Englishman  ;  and  the  last  is  in  Latin  verse, 
taken  from  a  MS.  which  the  unwearied  Colgan  procured  from 
Monte  Cassino,  and  which  is  attributed  to  Coelan,  a  monk  of 
Iniscaltra,  who  probably  lived  in  the  eighth  century,  while  a 
prologue  to  this  life  is  prefixed  by  a  later  writer,  the  celebrated 
Irish  bishop  of  Fiesole,  Donatus,  who,  in  the  early  part  of  the 
ninth  century,  worked  with  great  success  in  Italy.  There  is 
something  touching  in  the  language  with  which  this  great  and 
successful  child  of  the  Gael  reverts  in  his  prologue  to  the  home 
of  his  childhood  : — 

"  Far  in  the  west  they  tell  of  a  matchless  land,1  which  goes  in 
ancient  books  by  the  name  of  Scotia  [i.e.,  Ireland]  ;  rich  in  resources 
this  land,  having  silver,  precious  stones,  vestures  and  gold,  well  suited 
to  earth-born  creatures  as  regards  its  climate,  its  sun,  and  its  arable 
soil ;  that  Scotia  of  lovely  fields  that  flow  with  milk  and  honey,  hath 
skill  in  husbandry,  and  raiments,  and  arms,  and  arts,  and  fruits.  There 
are  no  fierce  bears  there,  nor  ever  has  the  land  of  Scotia  brought 
forth  savage  broods  of  lions.  No  poisons  hurt,  no  serpent  creeps 
through  the  grass,  nor  does  the  babbling  frog  croak  and  complain  by 
the  lake.  In  this  land  the  Scottish  race  are  worthy  to  dwell,  a 
renowned  race  of  men  in  war,  in  peace,  in  fidelity." 

Whitley  Stokes  has  published  the  Irish  lives  of  St.  Brigit 
from  the  Leabhar  Breac  and  the  Book  of  Lismore,  and 
Donatus  alludes  to  other  lives  by  St.  Ultan  2  and  St.  Eleran, 

1  There  is  a  fragment  in  the  Irish  MS.  Rawlinson,  B.  512,  quoted  some- 
where by  Kuno  Meyer,  which  reminds  one  of  this  passage.     It  begins  : 
"  Now  the  island  of  Ireland,  Inis  Herenn,  has  been  set  in  the  west.    As 
Adam's  Paradise  stands  at  the  sunrise,  so  Ireland  stands  at  the  sunset,  and 
they  are  alike  in  the  nature  of  their  soil,"  etc. 

2  St.  Ultan  wrote  a  beautiful  Irish  hymn  and  also  a  Lafin  hymn  to  her— 
at  least  they  are  attributed  to  him — beginning — 

"  Christus  in  nostra  insola  * 

Sue  vocatur  hibernia 
stensus  est  hominibus 
Maximis  mirabilibus. 


ST.  BRIG  IT 


165 


so  that  Brigit  has  not  lacked  biographers.  She  herself  is  said 
to  have  written  a  rule  for  her  nuns  and  some  other  things,  and 
O'Curry  prints  one  Irish  poem  ascribed  to  her — in  which  she 
prays  for  the  family  of  heaven  to  be  present  at  her  feast  : 
"I  should  like  the  men  of  heaven  in  my  own  house,  I 
should  like  rivers  of  peace  to  be  at  their  disposal,"  etc. — 
which  appears  to  be  alluded  to  in  the  preface  to  the  Litany 
of  Angus  the  Culdee,  as  the  "  great  feast  which  St.  Brigit 
made  for  Jesus  in  her  heart."  I 


Que  perfecit  per  felicem 
Celestis  vite  virginem 
Precellentem  pro  merito 
Magno  in  mundi  circulo." 


See  Todd's  "  Liber  Hymnorum,"  vol.  ii.  p.  58. 
the  Irish  is  seldom  quite  perfect. 
1  This  poem  begins  : 


The  Latin  orthography  of 


"  Ropadh  maith  lem  corm-lind  mor 
Do  righ  na  righ 

Ropadh  maith  lem  muinnter  nimhe 
Acca  hoi  tre  bithe  shir." 

I.e.,  "  I  would  like  a  great  lake  of  ale  for  the  King  of  the  kings,  I  would 
like  the  people  of  heaven  to  be  drinking  it  through  eternal  ages,"  which 
sounds  curious,  but  Brigit  probably  meant  it  allegorically. 


CHAPTER  XV 

COLUMCILLE 

THE  third  great  patron  Saint  of  Ireland,  the  man  who  stands 
out  almost  as  conspicuously  as  St.  Patrick  himself  in  the 
religious  history  of  the  Gael,  the  most  renowned  missionary, 
scribe,  scholar,  poet,  statesman,  anchorite,  and  school-founder 
of  the  sixth  century  is  St.  Columcille.1  Everything  about  this 
remarkable  man  has  conspired  to  fix  upon  him  the  imagination 
of  the  Irish  race.  He  was  not,  like  St.  Patrick,  of  alien,  nor 
like  St.  Brigit,  of  semi-servile  birth,  but  was  sprung  from  the 
highest  and  bluest  blood  of  the  Irish,  being  son  of  Felemidh, 
son  of  Fergus,  son  of  Conall  Gulban — renowned  to  this  day  in 
saga  and  romance — son  of  Niall  of  the  Nine  Hostages,  that 
great  monarch  of  Ireland  who  ravaged  Britain  "and  exacted 
tributes  far  and  wide  from  his  conquered  enemies. 

He  was  born  on  the  yth  of  December,  52i,2  twenty-nine 
years  after  the  reputed   death  of  St.  Patrick,  and  four  years 

1  Also  often  called  St.  Columba,  to  be  strictly  distinguished  from  Colum- 
banus,  who  laboured  on  the  Continent.     The  name  is  written  sometimes 
Colomb  Cille  and  Colum  Kille  or  Columkille.     It  is  pronounced  in  Irish 
Cullum-kilia,  and  means  literally  the  "  Dove  of  the  Church,"  but  in  English 
the  name  is  generally  pronounced  Columkill. 

2  As  calculated  by  Dr.  Reeves,  who  coincides  with  the  "  Four  Masters" 
and  Dr.  Lanigan.    The  other  Annals  waver  between  518  and  523. 

166 


COLUMCILLE  167 

before  that  of  St.  Brigit,  at  Gartan  x  in  Donegal,  a  wild  but 
beautiful  district  of  which  his  father  was  the  prince.  The 
reigning  monarch  of  Ireland  was  his  half-uncle,  while  his  mother 
Ethne  was  the  direct  descendant  of  the  royal  line  of  Cathaoir 
[Cauheer]  Mor,  the  regnant  family  of  Leinster,  and  he  himself 
would  have  had  some  chance  of  the  reversion  of  the  monarchy 
had  he  been  minded  to  press  his  claims.  Reared  at  Kilmacrenari, 
near  Gartan,  the  place  where  the  O'Donnells  were  afterwards 
inaugurated,  he  received  his  first  teaching  at  the  hands  of 
St.  Finnen  or  Finnian  in  his  famous  school  at  Moville,  for 
already  since  Patrick's  death  Ireland  had  become  dotted  with 
such  small  colleges.  It  was  here  at  this  early  age  that  his 
school-fellows  christened  him  Colum-cille,  or  jColum  of  the 
Qhurch,  on  account  of  the  assiduity  with  which  he  sought 
the  holy  building.  At  this  period  the  Christian  clergy  and  the 
bardic  order  were  the  only  two  educational  powers  in  Ireland, 
and  after  leaving  St.  Finnian,  Columcille  travelled  south  into 
Leinster  to  a  bard  called  Gemman2  with  whom  he  took  lessons. 
From  him  he  went  to  St.  Finnen  or  Finnian  of  Clonard. 
While  studying  at  Clonard  it  was  the  custom  for  each  of  the 
students  to  grind  corn  in  his  turn  at  a  quern,  but  Columcille's 
Irish  life  in  the  Book  of  Lismore  tells  us  naively,  in  true  old 
Irish  spirit,  "  howbeit  an  angel  from  heaven  used  to  grind  on 
behalf  of  Columcille  ;  that  was  the  honour  which  the  Lord 
used  to  render  him  because  of  the  eminent  nobleness  of  his 
race."  St.  Ciaran  [Keeran]  was  at  this  time  a  fellow-student 
with  him,  and  Finnian,  says  the  Irish  life,  saw  one  night  a 
vision,  "  to  wit,  two  moons  arose  from  Clonard,  a  golden  moon 
and  a  silver  moon.  The  golden  moon  went  into  the  north 

1  See  the  lines  in  O'Donnell's  life  of  the  saint,  ascribed  to  St.  Mura  : 

"  Rugadh  i  nGartan  da  dheoin  /  S  do  h-oileadh  i  gCill  mhic  Neoin 
'S  do  baisteadh  mac  na  maise  /  A  dTulaigh  De  Dubhghlaise." 

2  He  is  called  "German  the  Master"  in  the  Book  of  Lismore  life.    In 
the  life  of  Finnian  of  Clonard  he  is  called  Carminator  nomine  gemanus, 
who  brings  to  St.  Finnian  "  quoddam  carmen  magnificum." 


1 68      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

of  the  island,  and  Ireland  and  Scotland  gleamed  under  it.  The 
silver  moon  went  on  until  it  stayed  by  the  Shannon,  and 
Ireland  at  her  centre  gleamed."  That,  says  the  author, 
signified  "  Columcille  with  the  grace  of  his  noble  kin  and 
his  wisdom,  and  Ciaran  with  the  refulgence  of  his  virtues 
and  his  good  deeds." 

Leaving  Clonard  behind  him,  Columcille  passed  on  to  yet 
another  school — this  time  to  that  of  Mobhi  at  Glasnevin,  near 
Dublin,  where  there  were  as  many  as  fifty  students  at  work, 
living  in  huts  or  cells  grouped  round  an  oratory,  some  of  whom 
were  famous  men  in  after-time,  for  they  included  Cainnech  and 
Comgall  and  Ciaran.  A  curious  incident  is  recorded  of  these 
three  and  of  Columcille  in  the  Irish  life  in  the  Book  of  Lismore. 

Columcille  was  driven  from  Glasnevin  by  the  approach  of 
the  great  plague  which  ravaged  the  country,  and  of  which 
his  teacher  Mobhi  died. 

"  Once  on  a  time,"  says  the  author,  "  a  great  church  was  built  by 
Mobhi.  The  clerics  were  considering  what  each  of  them  would 
like  to  have  in  the  church.  '  I  should  like,'  said  Ciaran,  '  its  full  of 
church  children  to  attend  the  canonical  hours.'  '  I  should  like,'  said 
Cainnech,  '  to  have  its  full  of  books  to  serve  the  sons  of  life.' 
should  like,'  said  Comgall,  '  its  full  of  affliction  and  disease  to  be  in 
my  own  body :  to  subdue  me  and  repress  me.'  Then  Columcille 
chose  its  full  of  gold  and  silver  to  cover  relics  and  shrines  withal. 
Mobhi  said  it  should  not  be  so,  but  that  Columcille's  community 
would  be  wealthier  than  any  community,  whether  in  Ireland*  or  in 
Scotland." x 

1  A  similar  story  of  Cummain  the  Tall,  of  Guaire  the  Connacht  king  who 
still  gives  his  name  to  the  town  of  Gort,  which  is  Gort  Inse-Guaire,  and 
of  Caimine  of  Inisceltra,  is  told  in  the  Leabhar  na  h-Uidhre,  and  printed 
by  Whitley  Stokes  in  a  note  at  p.  304  of  his  "  Lives  from  the  Book  of 
Lismore."  Each  of  the  three  got  as  he  had  desired,  for,  says  the 
chronicler,  "all  their  musings  were  made  true.  The  earth  was  given 
to  Guaire.  Wisdom  was  given  to  Cummain.  Diseases  and  sicknesses 
were  inflicted  on  Caimine,  so  that  no  bone  of  him  joined  together  in  the 
earth,  but  melted  and  decayed  with  the  anguish  of  every  disease  and  of 
every  tribulation,  so  that  they  all  went  to  heaven  according  to  their 
musings."  (See  for  the  same  story  the  Yellow  Book  of  Lecan,  p.  132, 
of  facsimile.) 


COLUMCILLE  169 

Betaking  himself  northward  with  a  growing  reputation,  he 
was  offered  by  his  cousin,  then  Prince  of  Aileach,  near  Derry, 
and  afterwards  monarch  of  Ireland,  the  site  of  a  monastery  on 
the  so-called  island  of  Derry,  a  rising  ground  of  oval  shape, 
covering  some  two  hundred  acres,  along  the  slopes  of  which 
flourished  a  splendid  forest  of  oak-trees,  which  gave  to  the 
oasis  its  name  of  Derry  or  the  oak  grove.  Columcille,  like 
all  Gaels — and  indeed  all  Celts — was  full  of  love  for  every- 
thing beautiful  in  nature,  both  animate  and  inanimate,  and  so 
careful  was  he  of  his  beloved  oaks  that,  contrary  to  all  custom, 
he  would  not  build  his  church  with  its  chancel  towards  the 
east,  for  in  that  case  some  of  the,  oaks  would  have  had  to  be 
felled  to  make  room  for  it.  He  laid  strict  injunctions  upon  all 
his  successors  to  spare  the  lovely  grove,  and  enjoined  that  if 
any  of  the  trees  should  be  blown  down  some  of  them  should  go 
for  fuel  to  their  own  guest-house,  and  the  rest  be  given  to 
the  people. 

This  was  Columcille's  first  religious  institution,*  and,  like 
every  man's  firstling,  it  remained  dear  to  him  to  the  last. 
Years  afterwards,  when  the  thought  of  it  came  back  to  him 
on  the  barren  shores  of  lona,  he  expressed  himself  in  passionate 
Irish  poetry. 


For  oh  !  were  the  tributes  of  Alba  mine 
From  shore  unto  centre,  from  centre  to  sea, 

The  site  of  one  house,  to  be  marked  by  a  line 
In  the  midst  of  fair  Derry  were  dearer  to  me. 

That  spot  is  the  dearest  on  Erin's  ground, 

For  the  treasures  that  peace  and  that  purity  lend, 

For  the  hosts  of  bright  angels  that  circle  it  round, 
Protecting  its  borders  from  end  to  end. 

The  dearest  of  any  on  Erin's  ground 

For  its  peace  and  its  beauty  I  gave  it  my  love, 

Each  leaf  of  the  oaks  around  Derry  is  found 
To  be  crowded  with  angels  from  heaven  above. 


i;o      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

My  Derry  !  my  Derry  !  my  little  oak  grove, 
My  dwelling,  my  home,  and  my  own  little  cell, 

May  God  the  Eternal  in  Heaven  above 
Send  death  to  thy  foes  and  defend  thee  well." x 

Columcille  was  yet  a  young  man,  only  twenty-five  years  of 
age,  when  he  founded  Derry,  but  both  his  own  genius,  and 
more  especially  his  great  friends  and  kinsfolk,  had  conspired  to 
make  him  famous.  For  the  next  seventeen  years  he  laboured 
in  Ireland,  and  during  this  time  founded  the  still  more 
celebrated  schools  of  Durrow  in  the  present  King's  County, 
and  of  Kells  in  Meath,  both  of  which  became  most  famous  in 
after  years.  Durrow,2  which,  like  Derry,  was  named  from 

1  Literally,  "  Were  the  tribute  of  all  Alba  mine,  from  its  centre  to  its 
border,  I  would  prefer  the  site  of  one  house  in  the  middle  of  Derry.    The 
reason  I  love  Derry  is  for  its  quietness,  for  its  purity,  and  for  the  crowds 
of  white  angels  from  the  one  end  to  the  other.    The  reason  why  I  love 
Derry  is  for  its  quietness,  for  its  purity,  crowded  full  of  heaven's  angels  in 
every  leaf  of  the  oaks  of  Derry.    My  Derry,  my  little  oak  grove,  my 
dwelling  and  my  little  cell,  O  Eternal  God  in  heaven  above,  woe  be  to 
him  who  violates  it." 

"  Is  aire,  caraim  Doire 
Ar  a  reidhe,  ar  a  ghloine, 
's  ar  iomatt  a  aingel  find 
On  chind  go  soich  aroile." 

This  poem  is  taken  from  a  Brussels  MS.,  copied  by  Michael  O'Clery  for 
Father  Colgan,  and  by  him  accepted  apparently  as  genuine.  Some  of  it 
may  very  well  be  so,  only,  as  usual,  it  has  been  greatly  altered  and 
modified  in  transcription,  as  may  be  seen  from  the  above  verse.  (See 
p.  288  of  Reeves'  "  Adamnan.")  Some  of  the  verses  are  evidently  inter- 
pelations,  but  the  Irish  life  in  the  Book  of  Lismore  distinctly  attributes  to 
him  the  verse  which  I  have  here  given,  going  out  of  its  way  to  quote  it  in 
full,  but  the  third  line  is  a  little  different  as  quoted  in  the  life  :  "  ar  is 
lomlan  aingeal  bhfinn." 

2  In  Irish  Dair-magh,    "  oak-plain."     Columcille  seems  to  have  been 
particularly  fond  of  the  oak,  for  his  Irish  life  tells  us  that  it  was  under 
a  great  oak-tree  that  he  resided  while  at  Kells  also.    The  writer  adds, 
"and  it" — the  great  oak-tree — "remained  till  these  latter  times,  when  it 
fell  through  the  crash  of  a  mighty  wind.    And  a  certain  man  took  some- 
what of  its  bark  to  tan  his  shoes  with.    Now,  when  he  did  on  the  shoes, 
he  was  smitten  with  leprosy  from  his  sole  to  his  crown."     It  is  well  known 
to  this  day  that  it  is  unlucky,  or  worse,  to  touch  a  saint's  tree.    I  have  been 
observing  one  that  was,  when  in  the  last  stage  of  decrepitude,  blown  down 


COLUMCILLE  171 

the  beautiful  groves  of  oak  which  were  scattered  along  the  slope 
of  Druim-cain,  or  "  the  pleasant  hill,"  seems  to  have  retained 
to  the  last  a  hold  upon  the  affections  of  Columcille  second  only 
to  that  of  Deny.  When  its  abbot,  Cormac  the  voyager, 
visited  him  long  years  afterwards  in  lona,  and  expressed  his 
unwillingness  to  return  to  his  monastery  again,  because,  being 
a  Momonian  of  the  race  of  Eber,  the  southern  Ui  Neill  were 
jealous  of  him,  and  made  his  abbacy  unpleasant  or  impossible, 
Columcille  reproached  him  in  pathetic  terms  for  abandoning  so 
lovely  an  abode — 

"  With  its  books  and  its  learning, 
A  devout  city  with  a  hundred  crosses." 

"  O  Cormac,"  he  exclaimed — 

"  I  pledge  thee  mine  unerring  word 
Which  it  is  not  possible  to  impugn, 
Death  is  better  in  reproachless  Erin 
Than  perpetual  life  in  Alba  [Scotland].1      -* 


a  few  years  ago  at  the  well  of  St.  Aracht  or  Atracta,  a  female  saint  of 
Connacht  in  the  plains  of  Boyle  ;  yet,  though  the  people  around  are 
nearly  famished  for  want  of  fuel,  not  one  twig  of  it  has  yet  been 
touched.  In  the  Edinburgh  MS.  of  Columcille's  life  we  read  how  on 
another  occasion  he  made  a  hymn  to  arrest  a  fire  that  was  consuming  the 
oak-wood,  "  and  it  is  sung  against  every  fire  and  against  every  thunder 
from  that  time  to  this."  (See  Skene's  "  Celtic  Scotland,"  vol.  ii.  pp.  468-507.) 

1  "  7s  si  mo  cubhus  gan  col 

's  nocha  conagar  m'  eiliughadh 
Ferr  ecc  ind  Eirind  cen  ail 
Ina  sir  beatha  ind  Alpuin." 

For  the  whole  of  this  poem,  in  the  form  of  a  dialogue  between  Cormac 
and  Columcille,  see  p.  264  of  Reeves'  "  Adamnan."  It  is  very  hard  to  say 
how  much  or  how  little  of  these  poems  is  really  Columcille's.  Colgan 
was  inclined  to  think  them  genuine.  Of  course,  as  we  now  have  them, 
the  language  is  greatly  modernised  ;  but  I  am  inclined  to  agree  with  Dr. 
Healy,  who  judges  them  rather  from  internal  than  from  linguistic 
evidence  ;  and  while  granting,  of  course,  that  they  have  been  retouched 
by  later  bards,  adds,  "but  in  our  opinion  they  represent  substantially 
poems  that  were  really  written  by  the  saint.  They  breathe  his  pious 
spirit,  his  ardent  love  for  nature,  and  his  undying  affection  for  his  native 


1/2      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

And  on  another  occasion,  when  it  strikes  him  how  happy 
the  son  of  Dima,  /.*.,  Cormac,  must  be  at  the  approach  ot 
summer  along  the  green  hillside  of  Rosgrencha — another 
name  for  Durrow — amid  its  fair  slopes,  waving  woods,  and 
singing  birds,  compared  with  himself  exiled  to  the  barren 
shores  of  rugged  lona,  he  bursts  forth  into  the  tenderest 
song— 

"  How  happy  the  son  is  of  Dima  !  no  sorrow 

For  him  is  designed, 

He  is  having,  this  hour,  round  his  own  cell  in  Durrow 
The  wish  of  his  mind  : 

The  sound  of  the  wind  in  the  elms,  like  the  strings  of 

A  harp  being  played, 
The  note  of  the  blackbird  that  claps  with  the  wings  of 

Delight  in  the  glade. 

With  him  in  Rosgrencha  the  cattle  are  lowing 

At  earliest  dawn, 
On  the  brink  of  the  summer  the  pigeons  are  cooing 

And  doves  on  his  lawn,"  etc.1 

Columcille  continued  his  labours  in  Ireland,  founding 
churches  and  monasteries  and  schools,  until  he  was  forty-two 

land.  Although  retouched,  perhaps,  by  a  later  hand,  they  savour  so 
strongly  of  the  true  Columbian  spirit  that  we  are  disposed  to  reckon  them 
amongst  the  genuine  compositions  of  the  saint."  ("  Ireland's  Schools  and 
Scholars,"  p.  329.)  "  The  older  pieces  here  preserved,"  says  Dr.  Robert 
Atkinson  in  his  preface  to  the  contents  of  the  facsimile  of  the  Book  of 
Leinster,  "  and  of  whose  genuineness  and  authenticity  there  seems  no  room 
for  doubt,  ex.  gr.,  the  Poems  ofColum  Cille,  bear  with  them  the  marks  of  the 
action  of  successive  transcribers,  whose  desire  to  render  them  intelligible 
has  obscured  the  linguistic  proofs  of  their  age." 

1  Literally,  "How  happy  the  son  of  Dima  of  the  devout  church,  when  he 
hears  in  Durrow  the  desire  of  his  mind,  the  sound  of  the  wind  against  the 
elms  when  'tis  played,  the  blackbird's  joyous  note  when  he  claps  his 
wings  ;  to  listen  at  early  dawn  in  Rosgrencha  to  the  cattle,  the  cooing  of 
the  cuckoo  from  the  tree  on  the  brink  of  summer,"  etc.  (See  Reeves' 
"  Adamnan,"  p.  274). 

"  Fuaim  na  goithi  ris  in  leman        ardos  peti 
Longaire  luin  duibh  conati  ar  mben  a  eti." 


i 


COLUMC1LLE  173 

years  of  age.  He  was  at  this  time  at  the  height  of  his  physical 
and  mental  powers,  a  man  of  a  masterful  but  of  a  too  passion- 
ate character,  of  fine  physique,  and  enjoying  a  reputation 
second  to  that  of  none  in  Erin.  The  commentator  in  the 
Feilire  of  Angus  describes  his  appearance  as  that  of  "a  man 
well-formed,  with  powerful  frame  ;  his  skin  was  white,  his 
face  was  broad  and  fair  and  radiant,  lit  up  with  large,  grey,1 
luminous  eyes  ;  his  large  and  well-shaped  head  was  crowned, 
except  where  he  wore  his  frontal  tonsure,  with  close  and 
curling  hair.  His  voice  was  clear  and  resonant,  so  that  he 
could  be  heard  at  the  distance  of  1,500  paces,2  yet  sweet  with 
more  than  the  sweetness  of  the  bards."  His  activity  was 
incessant.  "  Not  a  single  hour  of  the  day,"  says  Adamnan, 
"  did  he  leave  unoccupied  without  engaging  either  in  prayer, 
or  in  reading,  or  in  writing,  or  in  some  other  work  ; "  and  he 
laboured  with  his  hands  as  well  as  with  his  head,  cooking  or 
looking  after  his  ploughmen,  or  engaged  in  ecclesiastical  or 
secular  matters.  All  accounts  go  to  show  that  he  was  of  a 
hot  and  passionate  temperament,  and  endowed  with  both  the 
virtues  and  the  faults  that  spring  from  such  a  character. 
Indeed  this  was,  no  doubt,  why  in  the  "  famous  vision  "  3 

1  He  himself  refers  to  his  "  grey  eye  looking  back  to  Erin  "  in  one  of 
his  best-known  poems. 

2  In  token  of  which  is  the  Irish  quatrain  quoted  in  his  life — 

"  Son  a  ghotha  Coluim  cille, 
mor  a  binne  os  gach  cleir 
go  ceann  cuig  cead  deag  ceimeann, 
Aidhbhle  reimeann,  eadh  ba  reill. 

3  "  So  then    Baithine  related  to  him  the  famous  vision,  to  wit,  three 
chairs  seen  by  him  in  heaven,  even  a  chair  of  gold  and  a  chair  of  silver 
and  a  chair  of  glass.     Columcille  explained  the  vision.    Ciaran  the  Great, 
the  carpenter's  son,  is  the  chair  of  gold  for  the  greatness  of  his  charity  and 
his  mercy.     Molaisse  is  the  chair  of  silver  because  of  his  wisdom  and  his 
piety.    I  myself  am  the  chair  of  glass  because  of  my  affection,  for  I  prefer 
the  Gaels  to  the  men  of  the  world,  and  Kinel  Conall  [his  own  tribe]  to  the 
[other]  Gaels,  and  the  kindred  of  Lughid  to  the  Kinel  Conall."     (Leabhar 
Breac,  quoted  by  Stokes,  "  Irish  Lives,"  p.  303  ;  but  the  reason  here  given 
for  being  seated  on  a  chair  of  glass  is,  as  Stokes  remarks,  unmeaning.) 


174      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

which  Baithin  saw  concerning  him,  he  was  seated  only  on 
a  chair  of  glass ;  while  Ciaran  was  on  a  chair  of  gold,  and 
Molaisse  upon  a  chair  of  silver.  The  commentator  on  the 
Feilire  of  Angus  boldly  states  that,  "  though  his  devotion  was 
delightful,  he  was  carnal  and  often  frail  even  as  glass  is  fragile." 
Aware  of  this,  he  wore  himself  out  with  fastings  and  vigils,1 
and  no  doubt — 

"  Lenior  et  melior  fit  accedente  senectu," 

for  Adamnan  describes  him,  from  the  recollections  of  the 
monks  who  knew  him,  as  being  angelic  in  aspect 2  and  bright 
in  conversation,  and  despite  his  great  labours  yet  "  dear  to  all, 
displaying  his  holy  countenance  always  cheerful."  A  curious 
story  is  told  in  the  Leabhar  Breac,  of  the  stratagems  to  which 
his  people  resorted  to  checkmate  his  self-imposed  penance  ;  for 
having  one  day  seen  an  old  woman  living  upon  pottage  of 
nettles,  while  she  was  waiting  for  her  one  cow  to  calve  and 
give  her  milk,  the  notion  came  to  him  that  he  too  would 
thenceforward  live  upon  the  same,  for  if  she  could  do  so,  much 
more  could  he,  and  it  would  be  profitable  to  his  soul  in  gaining 
the  kingdom  of  heaven.  So,  said  the  writer,  he  called  his  ser- 
vant— 

" '  Pottage/  saith  he,  '  from  thee  every  night,  and  bring  not  the 
milk  with  it.' 

"  '  It  shall  be  done,'  said  the  cook. 

"  He  (the  cook)  bores  the  mixing-stick  of  the  pottage,  so  that  it 
became  a  pipe,  and  he  used  to  pour  the  meat  juice  into  the  pipe, 
down,  so  that  it  was  mixed  through  the  pottage.  That  preserves 
the  cleric's  (Columcille's)  appearance.  The  monks  perceived  the 

1  "  Jejunationum   quoque  et  vigiliarum  indefessis  laboribus  sine  ulla 
intermissione,  die  noctu-que  ita  occupatus  ut  supra  humanam  possibili- 
tatem  uniuscujusque  pondus  specialis  videretur  opens,"  says  Adamnan  in 
the  preface  to  his  first  book. 

2  "  Erat  enim  aspectu  angelicus,  sermone  nitidus,  opere  sanctus,  ingenio 
optimus,  consilio  magnus.  .  .  et  inter  haec  omnibus  carus,  hilarem  semper 
faciem  ostendens  sanctam,   spiritus  sancti  gaudio  intimis  laitificabatur 
praecordiis." 


COLUMCILLE  175 

cleric's  good  appearance,  and  they  talked  among  themselves.  That 
is  revealed  to  Columcille,  so  he  said,  '  May  your  successors  be 
always  murmuring.' 

"  '  Well  now,'  said  Columcille,  said  he,  to  his  servant,  *  what  dost 
thou  give  me  every  day  ? ' 

"  '  Thou  art  witness,'  said  the  cook,  '  unless  it  come  out  of  the  iron 
of  the  pot,  or  out  of  the  stick  wherewith  the  pottage  is  mixed,  I  know 
nought  else  in  it  save  pottage  ! ' " 

It  was  now,  however,  that  events  occurred  which  had  the 
result  of  driving  Columcille  abroad  and  launching  him  upon 
a  more  stormy  and  more  dangerous  career,  as  the  apostle  of 
Scotland  and  the  Picts.  St.  Finnian  of  Moville,  with  whom  he 
studied  in  former  days,  had  brought  back  with  him  from  Rome 
a  copy  of  the  Psalms,  probably  the  first  copy  of  St.  Jerome's 
translation,  or  Vulgate,  that  had  appeared  in  Ireland,  which  he 
highly  valued,  and  which  he  did  not  wish  Columcille  to  copy. 
Columcille  however,  who  was  a  dexterous  and  rapid  scribe, 
found  opportunity,  by  sitting  up  during  several  nights,  to  make 
a  copy  of  the  book  secretly,1  but  Finnian  learning  it  claimed 

1  This  copy  made  by  Columcille  is  popularly  believed  to  be  the  cele- 
brated codex  known  as  the  Cathach  or  "  Battler,"  which  was  an  heirloom 
of  the  saint's  descendants,  the  O'Donnells.  It  was  always  carried  three 
times  round  their  army  when  they  went  to  battle,  on  the  breast  of  a  cleric, 
who,  if  he  were  free  from  mortal  sin,  was  sure  to  bring  them  victory.  The 
Mac  Robartaighs  were  the  ancestral  custodians  of  the  holy  relic,  and 
Cathbar  O'Donnell,  the  chief  of  the  race  at  the  close  of  the  eleventh  cen- 
tury, constructed  an  elaborately  splendid  shrine  or  cover  for  it.  This 
precious  heirloom  remained  with  the  O'Donnells  until  Donal  O'Donnell, 
exiled  in  the  cause  of  James  II.,  brought  it  with  him  to  the  Continent  and 
fixed  a  new  rim  upon  the  casket  with  his  name  and  date.  It  was  reco- 
vered from  the  Continent  in  1802  by  Sir  Neal  O'Donnell,  and  was  opened 
by  Sir  William  Betham  soon  after.  This  would  in  the  previous  century 
have  been  considered  a  deadly  crime,  for  "  it  was  not  lawful  "  to  open  the 
Cathach  ;  as  it  was,  Sir  Neal's  widow  brought  an  action  in  the  Court  of 
Chancery  against  Sir  William  Betham  for  daring  to  open  it.  There  turned 
out  to  be  a  decayed  wooden  box  inside  the  casket,  and  inside  this  again 
was  a  mass  of  vellum  stuck  together  and  hardened  into  a  single  lump.  By 
long  steeping  in  water  however,  and  other  treatment,  the  various  leaves 
came  asunder,  and  it  was  found  that  what  it  contained  was  really  a  Psalter, 
written  in  Latin,  in  a  "neat  but  hurried  hand."  Fifty-eight  leaves  re- 
mained, containing  from  the  3ist  to  the  io6th  Psalm,  and  an  examination  of 


i;6     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

the  copy.  Columcille  refused  it,  and  the  matter  was  referred 
to  King  Diarmuid  at  Tara.  The  monarch,  to  whom  books 
and  their  surroundings  were  probably  something  new,  as  a 
matter  for  legal  dispute,  could  find  in  the  Brehon  law  no 
nearer  analogy  to  adjudicate  the  case  by,  than  the  since  cele- 
brated sentence  le gach  boln  a  boimn,  "with  every  cow  her  calf," 
in  which  terms  he,  not  altogether  unnaturally,  decided  in 
favour  of  St.  Finnian,  saying,  "with  every  book  its  son-book, 
as  with  every  cow  her  calf."  r  This  alone  might  not  have 
brought  about  the  crisis,  but  unfortunately  the  son  of  the  king 
of  Connacht,  who  had  been  present  at  the  great  Convention  or 
Feis  of  Tara,  in  utter  violation  of  the  law  of  sanctuary  which 
alone  rendered  this  great  meeting  possible,  slew  the  son  of  the 
king's  steward,  and  knowing  that  the  penalty  was  certain 
death,  he  fled  to  the  lodging  of  the  northern  princes  Fergus 
and  Domhnall  [Donall]  who  immediately  placed  him  under  the 
protection  of  St.  Columcille.  This  however  did  not  avail  him, 
for  King  Diarmuid,  who  was  no  respecter  of  persons,  had  him 
promptly  seized  and  put  to  death  in  atonement  for  his  crime. 
This,  combined  with  his  unfortunate  judgment  about  the 
book,  enraged  the  imperious  Columcille  to  the  last  degree. 
He  made  his  way  northward  and  appealed  to  his  kinsmen  to 
avenge  him.  A  great  army  was  collected,  led  by  Fergus  and 
Domhnall,  two  first  cousins  of  Columcille,  and  by  the  king 
of  Connacht,  whose  son  had  been  put  to  death.  The  High- 
king  marched  to  meet  this  formidable  combination  with  all 
the  troops  he  could  gather.  Pushing  his  way  across  the  island 
he  met  their  combined  forces  in  the  present  county  of  Sligo, 

the  text  has  shown  that  it  really  does  contain  a  copy  of  the  second  revision , 
of  the  Psalter  by  St.  Jerome,  which  helps  to  strengthen  the  belief  that  this 
may  have  been  the  very  book  for  which  three  thousand  warriors  fought 
and  fell  in  the  Battle  of  Cooldrevna. 

1  Keating  says  that  this  account  of  the  affair  was  preserved  in  the  Black 
Book  of  Molaga,  one  of  his  ancient  authorities  now  lost.  The  king  decided, 
says  Keating,  "  gorab  Ids  gach  leabhar  a  mhaic-lcabhar,  mar  is  le  gach 
boinn  a  boinin" 


COLUMCILLE  177 

between  Benbulbin  and  the  sea.  A  furious  battle  was  de- 
livered in  which  he  was  defeated  with  the  loss  of  three  thou- 
sand men. 

It  was  soon  after  this  battle  that  Columcille  decided  to  leave 
Ireland.  There  is  a  great  deal  of  evidence  that  he  did  so  as  a 
kind  of  penance,  either  self-imposed  or  enjoined  upon  him  by 
St.  Molafse  [Moleesha],  as  Keating  says,  or  by  the  "  synod  of 
the  Irish  saints,"  as  O'Donnell  has  it.  He  had  helped  to  fill 
all  Ireland  with  arms  and  bloodshed,  and  three  thousand  men 
had  fallen  in  one  battle  largely  on  account  of  him,  and  it  was 
not  the  only  appeal  to  arms  which  lay  upon  his  conscience.1 
He  set  sail  from  his  beloved  Derry  in  the  year  593,  determined, 
according  to  popular  tradition,  to  convert  as  many  souls  to 
Christ  as  had  fallen  in  the  battle  of  Cooldrevna.  Amongst 
the  dozen  monks  of  his  own  order  who  accompanied  him  were 
his  two  first  cousins  and  his  uncle. 

It  was  death  and  breaking  of  heart  for  him  to  leave  the  land 
of  Erin,  and  he  pathetically  expresses  his  sorrow  in  his  own 
Irish  verses. 

"  Too  swiftly  my  coracle  flies  on  her  way, 

From  Derry  I  mournfully  turned  her  prow, 
I  grieve  at  the  errand  which  drives  me  to-day 
To  the  Land  of  the  Ravens,  to  Alba,  now. 


How  swiftly  we  travel !  there  is  a  grey  eye 
Looks  back  upon  Erin,  but  it  no  more 

Shall  see  while  the  stars  shall  endure  in  the  sky 
Her  women,  her  men,  or  her  stainless  shore. 


"  These  were,"  says  the  commentator  on  St.  Columcille's  hymn,  the 
;  Altus,"  "  the  three  battles  which  he  had  caused  in  Erin,  viz.,  the  battle  of 
1-Rathain,  between  him  and  Comgall,  contending  for  a  church,  viz., 
.  Torathair  ;  and  the  battle  of  Bealach-fheda  of  the  weir  of  Clonard  ;  and 
battle  of  Cul  Dremhne  [Cooldrevna]  in  Connacht,  and  it  was  against 
rmait  Mac  Cerball  [the  High-king],  he  fought  them  both."     Keating's 
int  also  agrees  with  this,  but  Reeves  has  shown  that  the  two  later 
les  in  which  he  was  implicated  probably  took  place  after  his  exile, 

M 


i;8      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

From  the  plank  of  the  oak  where  in  sorrow  I  lie, 
I  am  straining  my  sight  through  the  water  and  wind, 

And  large  is  the  tear  of  the  soft  grey  eye 

Looking  back  on  the  land  that  it  leaves  behind. 

To  Erin  alone  is  my  memory  given, 
To  Meath  and  to  Munster  my  wild  thoughts  flow, 

To  the  shores  of  Moy-linny,  the  slopes  of  Loch  Leven, 
And  the  beautiful  land  the  Ultonians  know." 

He  refers  distinctly  to  the  penance  imposed  upon  him  by  St. 
Moleesha. 

"  To  the  nobles  that  gem  the  bright  isle  of  the  Gael 

Carry  this  benediction  over  the  sea, 
And  bid  them  not  credit  Moleesha's  tale, 
And  bid  them  not  credit  his  words  of  me. 

Were  it  not  for  the  word  of  Moleesha's  mouth 
At  the  cross  of  Ahamlish  that  sorrowful  day, 

I  now  should  be  warding  from  north  and  from  south 
Disease  and  distemper  from  Erin  away." 

His  mind  reverts  to  former  scenes  of  delight — 

"  How  dear  to  my  heart  in  yon  western  land 

Is  the  thought  of  Loch  Foyle  where  the  cool  waves  pour, 
And  the  bay  of  Drumcliff  on  Culcinne's  strand, 
How  grand  was  the  slope  of  its  curving  shore  ! 


O  bear  me  my  blessing  afar  to  the  West, 
For  the  heart  in  my  bosom  is  broken  ;  I  fail. 

Should  death  of  a  sudden  now  pierce  my  breast 
I  should  die  of  the  love  that  I  bear  the  Gael ! "  r 

1  Literally  :  "  How  rapid  the  speed  of  my  coracle  and  its  stern  turned 
towards  Derry.  I  grieve  at  the  errand  over  the  proud  sea,  travelling  to  Alba 
of  the  Ravens.  There  is  a  grey  eye  that  looks  back  upon  Erin  :  it  shall  not 
see  during  life  the  men  of  Erin  nor  their  wives.  My  vision  o'er  the  brine  I 
stretch  from  the  ample  oaken  planks  ;  large  is  the  tear  from  my  soft  grey 
eye  when  I  look  back  upon  Erin.  Upon  Erin  is  my  attention  fixed,  upon 
Loch  Leven  [Lough  Lene  in  West  Meath],  upon  Line  [Moy-linny,  near 


COLUMCILLE  179 

Columcille  is  the  first  example  in  the  saddened  page  of  Irish 
history  of  the  exiled  Gael  grieving  for  his  native  land  and 
refusing  to  be  comforted,  and  as  such  he  has  become  the  very 
type  and  embodiment  of  Irish  fate  and  Irish  character.  The 
flag  in  bleak  Gartan,  upon  which  he  was  born,  is  worn  thin 
and  bare  by  the  hands  and  feet  of  pious  pilgrims,  and  "  the 
poor  emigrants  who  are  about  to  quit  Donegal  for  ever,  come 
and  sleep  on  that  flag  the  night  before  their  departure  from 
Derry.  Columcille  himself  was  an  exile,  and  they  fondly  hope 
that  sleeping  on  the  spot  where  he  was  born  will  help  them  to 
bear  with  lighter  heart  the  heavy  burden  of  the  exile's 
sorrows."  x  He  is  the  prototype  of  the  millions  of  Irish  exiles 
in  after  ages — 

"  Ruined  exiles,  restless,  roaming, 
Longing  for  their  fatherland,"  3 

and  the  extraordinary  deep  roots  which  his  life  and  poetry  have 
struck  into  the  soil  of  the  North  was  strikingly  evidenced  this 

Antrim] ,  upon  the  land  the  Ultonians  own,  upon  smooth  Munster,  upon 
Meath.  .  .  .  Carry  my  benediction  over  the  sea  to  the  nobles  of  the  Island 
of  the  Gael,  let  them  not  credit  Moleesha's  words  nor  his  threatened 
persecution.  Were  it  not  for  Moleesha's  words  at  the  Cross  of  Ahamlish, 
I  should  not  permit  during  my  life  disease  or  distemper  in  Ireland.  .  .  . 
Beloved  to  my  heart  also  in  the  west  is  Drumcliff  at  Culcinne's  strand  :  to 
behold  the  fair  Loch  Foyle,  the  form  of  its  shores  is  delightful.  .  .  . 
Take  my  blessing  with  thee  to  the  west,  broken  is  my  heart  in  my 
breast,  should  sudden  death  overtake  me  it  is  for  my  great  love  of  the 
Gael." 

Dr.  Healy's  "  Ireland's  Schools  and  Scholars,"  p.  293.  A  fact  which 
is  also  confirmed  by  Dr.  Reeves,  p.  Ixviii  of  his  "Adamnan,"  where  he 
says:  "The  country  people  believe  that  whoever  sleeps  a  night  on  this 
stone  will  be  free  from  home-sickness  when  he  goes  abroad,  and  for  this 
reason  it  has  been  much  resorted  to  by  emigrants  on  the  eve  of  their 
departure."  I  cannot  say  whether  the  breaking  up  of  old  ties  produced 
by  the  National  Board — which  has  elsewhere  so  skilfully  robbed  the  people/ 
of  their  birthright — may  not  have  put  an  end  to  this  custom  within  the  last 
few  years. 

3  "  Deoraidhe  gan  sgith  gan  sos, 
Mianaid  a  dtir  's  a  nduthchas." 

This  verse  was  either  composed  or  quoted  by  John  O'Mahony,  the 
Fenian  Head-centre,  when  in  America. 


i So     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

very  year  (1898)  by  the  wonderful  celebration  of  his  centenary  at 
Gartan,  at  which  many  thousands  of  people,  who  had  travelled 
all  night  over  the  surrounding  mountains,  were  present,  and 
where  it  was  felt  to  be  so  incongruous  that  the  life  of  such  a 
great  Irish  patriot,  prince,  and  poet,  in  the  diocese,  too,  of  an 
O'Donnell,  should  be  celebrated  in  English,  that — probably  for 
the  first  time  in  this  century — Irish  poems  were  read  and  Irish 
speeches  made,  even  by  the  Cardinal-Primate  and  the 
Bishop  of  the  diocese. 

Of  Columcille's  life  on  the  craggy  little  island  of  lona,  of 
his  splendid  labours  in  converting  the  Picts,  and  of  the 
monastery  which  he  established,  and  which,  occupied  by  Irish 
monks,  virtually  rendered  lona  an  Irish  island  for  the  next 
six  hundred  years,  there  is  no  need  to  speak  here,  for  these 
things  belong  rather  to  ecclesiastical  than  to  literary  history. 

Columcille  himself  was  an  unwearied  scribe,  and  delighted 
in  poetry.  Ample  provision  was  made  for  the  multiplication 
of  books  in  all  the  monasteries  which  he  founded,  and  his 
Irish  life  tells  us  that  he  himself  wrote  "three  hundred 
gifted,  lasting,  illuminated,  noble  books."  The  life  in  the 
Book  of  Lismore  tells  us  that  he  once  went  to  Clonmacnois 
with  a  hymn  he  had  made  for  St.  Ciaran,  'for  he  made 
abundant  praises  for  God's  household,  as  said  the  poet, 

"  Noble,  thrice  fifty,  nobler  than  every  apostle, 
The  number  of  miracles  [of  poems]  are  as  grass, 
Some  in  Latin,  which  was  beguiling, 
Others  in  Gaelic,  fair  the  tale." ' 

Of  these  only  three  in  Latin  are  now  known  to  exist,  whilst 
of  the  great  number  of  Irish  poems  attributed  to  him  only  a 
few — half  a  dozen  at  the  most — are  likely  to  be  even  partly 
genuine.  His  best  known  hymn  is  the  "  Altus,"  so  called 
from  its  opening  word  ;  it  was  first  printed  by  Colgan,1  and 

1  Also  in  the  "  Liber  Hymnorum,"  vol.  ii. ;  and  again  in  1882  with  a  prose 
paraphrase  and  notes  by  the  Marquis  of  Bute,  who  says  :  "  the  intrinsic 


COLUMCILLE  181 

its  genuineness  is  generally  admitted.  It  is  a  long  and  rudely- 
constructed  poem,  of  twenty-two  stanzas,  preserved  in  the 
Book  of  Hymns,  a  MS.  probably  of  the  eleventh  century. 
Each  stanza  consists  of  six  lines,1  and  each  line  of  sixteen 
syllables.  There  is  a  pause  after  the  eighth  syllable,  and  a 
kind  of  rhyme  between  every  two  lines.  The  first  verses  run 
thus  with  an  utter  disregard  of  quantity. 

"Altus  prosator,  vetustus  dierum  et  ingenitus, 
Erat  absque  origine  primordii  et  crepidine, 
Est  et  erit  in  saecula  saeculorum  infinitus, 
Cui  est  unigenitus  Christus  et  Spiritus  Sanctus/'  etc. 

The  second  Latin  hymn  is  a  supplement  to  this  one,  com- 
posed in  praise  of  the  Trinity,  because  Pope  Gregory  who,  as 
the  legend  states,  perceived  the  angels  listening  when  the  "Altus" 
was  recited  to  him,  was  yet  of  opinion  that  the  first  stanza  of 
the  original  poem,  despite  its  additional  line,  was  insufficient  to 
express  a  competent  laudation  of  the  mystery,  consequently 
Columcille  added,  it  was  said,  fifteen  rude-rhyming  couplets  of 
the  same  character  as  the  "Altus,"  but  it  is  very  doubtful  whether 
they  are  genuine.  The  third  hymn,  the  "  Noli  Pater,"  is  still 
shorter,  consisting  of  only  seven  rhyming  couplets  with  sixteen 
syllables  in  each  line.  It  was  in  ancient  times  considered  an 
efficient  safeguard  against  fire  and  lightning.  Some  of  his  reputed 
Irish  poems  we  have  already  glanced  at ;  three  that  Colgan  con- 
sidered genuine  were  printed  by  Dr.  Reeves  in  his  "  Adamnan  ;" 
and  another,  the  touching  "  Farewell  to  Ara,"  is  contained  in  the 
"Gaelic  Miscellany"  of  1808;  and  another  on  his  escape  from 

merits  of  the  composition  are  undoubtedly  very  great,  especially  in  the 
latter  capitula  [i.e.,  stanzas],  some  of  which  the  editor  thinks  would  not 
suffer  by  comparison  with  the  Dies  Irce."  Dr.  Dowden,  Bishop  of  Edin- 
burgh, has  printed,  in  his  pleasant  little  volume  on  the  "  Celtic  Church  in 
Scotland,"  p.  323,  a  most  admirable  translation  of  it  into  English  verse 
by  the  Rev.  Anthony  Mitchell. 

1  Except  the  first  stanza,  which  being  in  honour  of  the  Holy  Trinity  has 
jven  lines. 


182      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

King  Diarmuid,  when  the  king  of  Connacht's  son  was  put 
to  death  for  violating  the  Feis  at  Tara,  is  printed  in  the 
"Miscellany"  of  the  Irish  Archaeological  Society.1  There  are 
three  verses,  composed  by  him  as  a  prayer  at  the  battle  of 
Cooldrevna,  ascribed  to  him  in  the  "Chronicon  Scotorum ;"  and 
there  is  a  collection  of  fifteen  poems  attributed  to  him  in  the 
O'Clery  MSS.  at  Brussels,  and  nearly  a  hundred  more — mostly 
evident  forgeries — in  the  Bodleian  at  Oxford.2  He  does  not 
seem  to  have  ever  written  any  work  in  prose. 

There  are  six  lives  of  Columcille  still  extant,  the  greatest  of 
them  all  being  that  in  Latin  by  Adamnan,3  who  was  one  of 
his  successors  in  the  abbacy  of  lona,  and  who  was  born  only 
twenty-seven  years  after  Columcille's  death.  This  admirable 
work,  written  in  flowing  and  very  fair  Latin,  was  derived,  as 
Adamnan  himself  tells  us,  partly  from  oral  and  partly  from 
written  sources.  A  memoir  of  Columcille  had  already  been 
written  by  Cuimine  Finn  or  Cummeneus  Albus,4  as  Adamnan 
calls  him,  the  last  Abbot  of  lona  but  one  before  himself,  and 
that  memoir  he  almost  entirely  embodied  in  his  third  book. 
He  had  also  some  other  written  accounts  before  him,  and  the 
Irish  poems,  both  of  the  saint  himself  and  of  other  bards, 
amongst  them  Baithine  M6r,  who  had  enjoyed  his  personal 
friendship,  and  St.  Mura,  who  was  a  little  his  junior — poems 

1  This  poem  begins — 

"  M'cenuran  dam  is  in  sliab, 
A  rig  grian  rop  sorad  sed, 
Nocha  n-eaglaigi  dam  ni, 
Na  du  mbeind  tri  licit  ced." 

I  find  other  verses  attributed  to  him  in  the  MS  marked  H  i.  n.  in 
Trinity  College,  Dublin. 

2  Laud,  615. 

3  Edited  in  1857  for  the  Irish  Archaeological  Society  by  Dr.  Reeves, 
afterwards  Bishop  of  Down,  with  all  the  perfection  which  the  most 
accurate  scholarship  and  painstaking  research  could  accomplish.    It  is  not 
too  much  to  say  that  his  name  is  likely  to  remain  in  the  future  associated 
with  those  of  Adamnan  and  Columcille. 

4  Book  iii.,  chapter  5  of  Adamnan's  "  Life  of  Columcille." 


COLUMCILLE  183 

now  lost.  He  had  also  constant  opportunities  of  conversing 
with  those  who  had  seen  the  great  saint  and  had  been  familiar 
with  him  in  life,  and  he  was  writing  on  the  spot  and  amidst 
the  associations  and  surroundings  wherein  his  last  thirty  years 
had  been  spent,  and  which  were  inseparably  connected  with 
his  memory.  The  result  was  that  he  produced  a  work,  which 
although  not  ostensibly  a  history,  and  dealing  only  with  the 
life  of  a  single  man,  and  that  rather  from  the  transcendental 
than  from  the  practical  side,  is  nevertheless  of  the  utmost  value 
to  the  historian  on  account  not  only  of  the  general  picture  of 
manners  and  customs,  but  still  more  on  account  of  its  incidental 
references  to  contemporary  history.  "  It  is,"  says  Pinkerton, 
who,  as  Dr.  Reeves  remarks,  was  a  writer  not  over-given  to 
eulogy,  "  the  most  complete  piece  of  such  biography  that  all 
Europe  can  boast  of,  not  only  at  so  early  a  period  but  even 
through  the  whole  Middle  Ages."  Adamnan's  other  great 
work  on  Sacred  Places  is  mentioned  by  his  contemporary,  the 
Venerable  Bede,  but  he  is  silent  as  to  Columcille's  life.  There 
is,  however,  abundant  internal  evidence  of  its  authenticity. 
This  evidence,  however  it  might  satisfy  the  minds  of  mere 
Irish  students  like  Colgan  and  Stephen  White,  proved  in- 
sufficient, however,  to  meet  the  exacting  claims  of  certain 
British  scholars.  "  I  cannot  agree,"  said  Sir  James  Dalrymple, 
in  the  last  century,  "  that  the  authority  of  Adamnanus  is  equal, 
far  less  preferable  to  that  of  Bede,  since  it  was  agreed  on  all 
hands  to  be  a  fabulous  history  lately  published  in  his  name,  and 
that  he  was  remarkable  for  nothing,  but  that  he  was  the  first 
abbot  of  that  monastery  who  quit  the  Scottish  institution,  and 
became  fond  of  the  English  Romish  Rites."  r  Dr.  Giles,  too, 
who  thought  of  editing  it,  tells  us  in  his  translation  of 
Bede's  "  Ecclesiastical  History,"  that  he  had  "strong  doubts  of 


1  Alluding  to  the  fact  that  Adamnan  tried  to  persuade  his  countrymen 
to  change  their  mode  of  calculating  Easter,  and  to  adopt  the  Roman 
tonsure.  Sir  James  Dalrymple  is  here  engaged  in  defending  the  Presby- 
terian view  of  church  government. 


1 84      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

Adamnan's  having  written  it."  x  And,  finally, Schoell, a  German, 
professed  to  have  convinced  himself  that  Adamnan's  preface 
could  not  have  been  written  by  the  same  hand  which  wrote 
the  life,  so  different  did  the  style  of  the  two  appear  to  him, 
and  wholly  rejected  it  as  a  work  of  the  seventh  century  written 
at  lona. 

But  it  so  happened  that  shortly  before  the  year  1851,  when 
Schoell  was  impugning  the  genuineness  of  this  work,  the 
ancient  manuscript  from  which  it  had  been  copied  by  the 
Irish  Jesuit,  Stephen  White — and,  from  his  copy,  printed  by 
Colgan — actually  came  to  light  again,  discovered  by  Dr. 
Ferdinand  Keller  at  the  bottom  of  an  old  book-shelf  in  the 
public  library  of  Schaffhausen,  into  which  it  had  been  turned 
with  some  other  old  manuscripts  and  books.  A  close  exami- 
nation of  this  remarkable  text  written  in  a  heavy  round  Irish 
hand,  in  nearly  the  same  type  of  script  as  the  Books  of  Kells 
and  Durrow,  and  of  a  more  archaic  character  than  that  of  the 
Book  of  Armagh  (written  in  807),  rendered  it  certain  that 
here  was  a  codex  of  great  value  and  antiquity.  Nor  was  the 
usual  colophon  containing  the  scribe's  name  and  asking  a  prayer 
for  him  missing.  That  name  was  Dorbene,  a  most  rare  one,  of 
which  only  two  instances  are  known,  both  connected  with 
lona,  the  first  of  which  records  the  death  of  Faelcu,  son  of 
Dorbene,  in  729,  but  as  we  know  that  Faelcu  died  in  his 
eighty-second  year  his  father  could  hardly  have  been  the  scribe. 
The  other  Dorbene  was  elected  abbot  of  lona  in  713  and  died 
the  same  year,  so  that  it  may  be  regarded  as  almost  certain  that 
this  book  was  written  by  him  and  that  this  copy  is  in  his 
handwriting.  We  have  in  this  codex,  then,  the  actual  hand- 
writing 2  of  a  contemporary  of  Adamnan  himself,  the  handi- 

1  "It  is  to  be  hoped,"  Dr.  Reeves  caustically  remarked,  "that  the  doubts 
originated  in  a  different  style  of  research  from  that  which  made  Bede's 
Columcilli  an  island,  and  Dearmach  [Durrow]  the  same  as  Derry  ! " 

"  It  may  be  objected,"  says  Dr.  Reeves,  "that  it  was  written  by  another 
person  of  this  name,  or  copied  by  a  later  hand  from  the  autograph  of  this 
Dorbene.  The  former  exception  is  not  probable,  the  name  being  almost 


COLUMCILLE  185 

work  of  the  generation  which  succeeded  Columcille,  a  volume 
a  hundred  years  older  than  even  the  Book  of  Armagh,  a 
volume  which  had  been  carried  over  to  some  of  the  numerous 
Irish  institutions  on  the  Continent  after  the  break-up  of  lona 
by  the  Northmen.  There  are  several  corrections  of  the 
orthography  in  a  different  and  later  hand,  the  date  of  which 
is  fixed  by  Dr.  Keller  at  800-820,  and  these  are  evidently  the 
work  of  a  German  monk,  who  was  displeased  with  the  peculiar 
orthography  of  the  Irish  school,  and  who  made  these  emenda- 
tions after  the  MS.  had  been  brought  from  lona  to  the 
Continent.  The  following  passage  describing  the  last  hours 
of  Columcille  will  both  serve  as  a  specimen  of  Adamnan's  style 
and  also  afford  a  minutely  particular  account  of  the  end  of  this 
great  man.  Its  accuracy  can  hardly  be  impugned  as  it  is 
written  by  one  who  had  every  minute  particular  from  eye- 
witnesses, and  as  the  actual  manuscript  from  which  it  is 
printed  was  copied  from  the  author's  own,  either  during  his 
life  or  within  less  than  ten  years  after  his  death.1 

Adamnan  first  tells  us  of  several  premonitions  which  the 
saint  had  of  his  approaching  end,  how  he,  "now  an  old  man, 
wearied  with  age,"  was  borne  in  his  waggon  to  view  his  monks 
labouring  in  the  fields  on  the  western  slope  of  the  island,  and 
intimated  to  them  that  his  end  was  not  far  off,  but  that  lest 

unique,  and  found  so  pointedly  connected  with  the  Columbian  society ; 
the  latter  is  less  probable,  as  the  colophon  in  Irish  MSS.  is  always  peculiar 
to  the  actual  scribe  and  likely  to  be  omitted  in  transcription,  as  is  the  case 
of  later  MSS.  of  the  same  recension  preserved  in  the  British  Museum." 
"  Hoc  ipsum  MS.  credi  posset  authographum  Dorbbenei,"  says  Van  der 
Meer,  a  learned  monk,  "  subscriptio  enirii  ilia  in  rubro  vix  ab  alio 
descriptore  addita  fuisset ;  characteres  quoque  antiquitatem  sapiunt  sasculi 
octavi." 

1  He  died  in  704,  and  Dorbene  the  scribe  in  713.  It  is  necessary  to  be 
thus  particular,  even  at  the  risk  of  being  tedious,  to  correct  the  unlearned 
assertions  of  people  who  can  write  that  in  treating  of  the  "lives  of  St. 
Patrick  and  St.  Columba,  one's  faith  is  tried  to  the  uttermost,  leading  not 
a  few  to  deny  the  very  existence  of  the  two  missionaries  "  ("  Irish  Druids 
and  Religions,"  Berwick,  p.  304) ;  or  the  biassed  dicta  of  men  like  Ledwich 
who  says  that  all  Irish  MSS.  "  savour  of  modern  forgery." 


1 86     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

their  Easter  should  be  one  of  grief,  he  would  not  be  taken 
from  them  until  it  was  over.  Later  on  in  the  year  he  went 
out  with  his  servant  Diarmuid  to  inspect  the  granary,  and  was 
pleased  at  the  two  large  heaps  of  grain  which  were  lying  there, 
and  remarked  that  though  he  should  be  taken  from  his  dear 
monks,  yet  he  was  glad  to  see  that  they  had  a  supply  for  the 
year. 

"  And,"  says  Adamnan,  "  when  Diarmuid  his  servant  heard  this  he 
began  to  be  sad,  and  said,  '  Father,  at  this  time  of  year  you  sadden 
us  too  often,  because  you  speak  frequently  about  your  decease.' 
When  the  saint  thus  answered,  '  I  have  a  secret  word  to  tell  you, 
which,  if  you  promise  me  faithfully  not  to  make  it  known  to  any 
before  my  death,  I  shall  be  able  to  let  you  know  more  clearly  about 
my  departure.'  And  when  his  servant,  on  bended  knees,  had 
finished  making  this  promise,  the  venerable  man  thus  continued, 
'  This  day  is  called  in  the  sacred  volumes  the  Sabbath,  which  is 
interpreted  Rest.  And  this  day  is  indeed  to  me  a  sabbath,  because 
it  is  my  last  of  this  present  laborious  life,  in  which,  after  the  trouble 
of  my  toil,  I  take  my  rest ;  for  in  the  middle  of  this  coming  sacred 
Sunday  night,  I  shall  to  use  the  Scripture  phrase,  tread  the  way  of 
my  fathers  ;  for  now  my  Lord  Jesus  Christ  deigns  to  invite  me,  to 
whom,  I  say,  at  the  middle  of  this  night,  on  His  own  invitation,  I 
shall  pass  over  ;  for  it  was  thus  revealed  to  me  by  the  Lord  Himself.' 
His  servant,  hearing  these  sad  words,  begins  to  weep  bitterly  :  whom 
the  saint  endeavoured  to  console  as  much  as  he  was  able. 

"  After  this  the  saint  goes  forth  from  the  barn,  and  returning  to 
the  monastery  sits  down  on  the  way,  at  the  place  where  afterwards 
a  cross  let  into  a  millstone,  and  to-day  standing  there,  may  be  per- 
ceived on  the  brink  of  the  road.  And  while  the  saint,  wearied  with 
old  age,  as  I  said  before,  sitting  in  that  place  was  taking  a  rest,  lo  ! 
the  white  horse,  the  obedient  servant  who  used  to  carry  the  milk- 
vessels  between  the  monastery  and  the  byre,  meets  him.  It, 
wonderful  to  relate,  approached  the  saint  and  placing  its  head  in 
his  bosom,  by  the  inspiration  of  God,  as  I  believe,  for  whom  every 
animal  is  wise  with  the  measure  of  sense  which  his  Creator  has.- 
bidden,  knowing  that  his  master  was  about  to  immediately  depart 
from  him,  and  that  he  would  see  him  no  more,  begins  to  lament  and 
abundantly  to  pour  forth  tears,  like  a  human  being,  into  the  saint's 
lap,  and  with  beslavered  mouth  to  make  moan.  Which  when  the 
servant  saw,  he  proceeds  to  drive  away  the  tearful  mourner,  but  the 
saint  stopped  him,  saying,  '  Allow  him,  allow  him  who  loves  me,  to 


COLUMCILLE  187 

pour  his  flood  of  bitterest  tears  into  this  my  bosom.  See,  you, 
though  you  are  a  man  and  have  a  rational  mind,  could  have  in  no 
way  known  about  my  departure  if  I  had  not  myself  lately  disclosed 
it  to  you,  but  to  this  brute  and  irrational  animal  the  Creator  Himself, 
in  His  own  way,  has  clearly  revealed  that  his  master  is  about  to 
depart  from  him.'  And  saying  this  he  blessed  the  sorrowful  horse 
[the  monastery's]  servant,  as  it  turned  away  from  him. 

"  And  going  forth  from  thence  and  ascending  a  small  hill,  which 
rose  over  the  monastery,  he  stood  for  a  little  upon  its  summit,  and 
as  he  stood,  elevating  both  his  palms,  he  blessed  his  community  and 
said,  '  Upon  this  place  however  narrow  and  mean,  not  only  shall  the 
kings  of  the  Scots  [i.e.,  Irish]  with  their  peoples,  but  also  the  rulers 
of  foreign  and  barbarous  nations  with  the  people  subject  to  them, 
confer  great  and  no  ordinary  honour.  By  the  saints  of  other 
churches  also,  shall  no  common  respect  be  accorded  it.' 

"  After  these  words,  going  down  from  the  little  hill  and  returning 
to  the  monastery,  he  sat  in  his  cell  writing  a  copy  of  the  Psalms,  and 
on  reaching  that  verse  of  the  thirty-third  Psalm  where  it  is  written, 
'  But  they  that  seek  the  Lord  shall  lack  no  thing  that  is  good  ; ' 
'  Here/  said  he,  'we  may  close  at  the  end  of  the  page  ;  let  Baithin 
write  what  follows.'  Well  appropriate  for  the  parting  saint  was 
the  last  verse  which  he  had  written,  for  to  him  shall  good  things 
eternal  be  never  lacking,  while  to  the  father  who  succeeded  him 
[Baithin],  the  teacher  of  his  spiritual  sons,  the  following  [words] 
were  particularly  apposite,  '  Come,  my  sons,  hearken  unto  me.  I 
shall  teach  you  the  fear  of  the  Lord,'  since  as  the  departing  one 
desired,  he  was  his  successor  not  only  in  teaching  but  also  in 
writing.1 

"  After  writing  the  above  verse  and  finishing  the  page,  the  saint 
enters  the  church  for  the  vesper  office  preceding  the  Sunday  ;  which 
finished,  he  returned  to  his  little  room,  and  rested  for  the  night  on 
his  couch,  where  for  mattress  he  had  a  bare  flag,  and  for  pillow 
a  stone,  which  at  this  day  stands  as  a  kind  of  commemorative 

1  "  Post  haec  verba  de  illo  descendens  monticellulo,  et  ad  monasterium 
revertens,  sedebat  in  tugurio  Psalterium  scribens  ;  et  ad  ilium  tricesimi 
tertii  psalmi  versiculum  perveniens  ubi  scribitur,  Inquirentes  autem 
Dominum  non  deficient  omni  bono,  Hie,  ait,  in  fine  cessandum  est 
paginae ;  quae  vero  sequuntur  Baitheneus  scribat.  Sancto  convenienter 
congruit  decessori  novissimus  versiculus  quern  scripserat,  cui  numquam 
bona  deficient  aeterna :  succesori  vero  sequens  patri,  spiritalium  doctor! 
filiorum,  Venite  filii,  audite  me,  timorem  Domini  docebo  vos,  congruenter 
convenit ;  qui,  sicut  decessor  commendavit,  non  solo  ei  docendo  sed  etiam 
scribendo  successit." 


1 88      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

monument  beside  his  tomb.1  And  there,  sitting,  he  gives  his  last 
mandates  to  the  brethren,  in  the  hearing  of  his  servant  only,  saying, 
'  These  last  words  of  mine  I  commend  to  you,  O  little  children,  that 
ye  preserve  a  mutual  charity  with  peace,  and  a  charity  not  feigned 
amongst  yourselves ;  and  if  ye  observe  to  do  this  according  to  the 
example  of  the  holy  fathers,  God,  the  comforter  of  the  good,  shall 
help  you,  and  I,  remaining  with  Him,  shall  make  intercession  for 
you,  and  not  only  the  necessaries  of  this  present  life  shall  be 
sufficiently  supplied  you  by  Him,  but  also  the  reward  of  eternal 
good,  prepared  for  the  observers  of  things  Divine,  shall  be  rendered 
you.'  Up  to  this  point  the  last  words  of  our  venerable  patron  [when 
now]  passing  as  it  were  from  this  wearisome  pilgrimage  to  his 
heavenly  country,  have  been  briefly  narrated. 

"After  which,  his  joyful  last  hour  gradually  approaching,  the 
saint  was  silent.  Then  soon  after,  when  the  struck  bell  resounded 
in  the  middle  of  the  night,2  quickly  rising  he  goes  to  the  church,  and 
hastening  more  quickly  than  the  others  he  entered  alone,  and  with 
bent  knees  inclines  beside  the  altar  in  prayer.  His  servant, 
Diarmuid,  following  more  slowly,  at  the  same  moment  beholds,  from 
a  distance,  the  whole  church  inside  filled  with  angelic  light  round 
the  saint ;  but  as  he  approached  the  door  this  same  light,  which  he  had 
seen,  swiftly  vanished  ;  which  light  a  few  others  of  the  brethren,  also 
standing  at  a  distance,  had  seen.  Diarmuid  then  entering  the  church, 
calls  aloud  with  a  voice  choked  with  tears, '  Where  art  thou,  Father  ? ' 
And  the  lamps  of  the  brethren  not  yet  being  brought,  groping  in 
the  dark,  he  found  the  saint  recumbent  before  the  altar  :  raising 
him  up  a  little,  and  sitting  beside  him,  he  placed  the  sacred  head  in 
his  own  bosom.  And  while  this  was  happening  a  crowd  of  monks 
running  up  with  lights,  and  seeing  their  father  dying,  begin  to 
lament.  And  as  we  have  learned  from  some  who  were  there 
present,  the  saint,  his  soul  not  yet  departing,  with  eyes  upraised, 
looked  round  on  each  side,  with  a  countenance  of  wondrous  joy  and 
gladness,  as  though  beholding  the  holy  angels  coming  to  meet  him. 
Diarmuid  then  raises  up  the  saint's  right  hand  to  bless  the  band  of 
monks.  But  the  venerable  father  himself,  too,  in  so  far  as  he  was 

1  It  is  still  shown  at  the  east  end  of  the  Cathedral  in  lona,  surrounded 
by  an  iron  cage  to  keep  off  tourists. 

2  "  The  saint  had  previously  attended  at  the  vespertinalis  Dominicce 
noctis  missa,  an  office  equivalent  to  the  nocturnal  vigil,  and  now  at  the 
turn  of  midnight  the  bell  rings  for  matins,  which  were  celebrated  accord- 
ing to  ancient  custom  a  little  before  daybreak." — Reeves.    The  early  bells 
were  struck  like  gongs,  not  rung,  hence  the  modern  Irish  for  "  ring  the 
beal "  is  bain  an  clog,  "  strike  the  bell." 


COLUMCILLE  189 

able,  was  moving  his  hand  at  the  same  lime,  so  that  he  might  appear 
to  bless  the  brethren  with  the  motion  of  his  hand,  what  he  could  not 
do  with  his  voice,  during  his  soul's  departure.  And  after  thus 
signifying  his  sacred  benediction,  he  straightway  breathed  forth 
his  life.  When  it  had  gone  forth  from  the  tabernacle  of  his  body, 
the  countenance  remained  so  long  glowing  and  gladdened  in  a 
wonderful  manner  by  the  angelic  vision,  that  it  appeared  not  that 
of  a  dead  man  but  of  a  living  one  sleeping.  In  the  meantime  the 
whole  church  resounded  with  sorrowful  lamentations." T 

Besides  the  lives  of  Columcille,  written  by  Adamnan  and 
Cummene,  at  least  four  more  exist ;  an  anonymous  life  in 
Latin,  printed  by  Colgan  and  erroneously  supposed  by  him 
to  be  that  of  Cummene  ;  a  life  by  John  of  Tinmouth,  chiefly 
compiled  from  Adamnan,  which  is  also  printed  by  Colgan  ; 
the  old  Irish  life  contained  in  four  Irish  MSS.,  namely,  in  the 
Leabhar  Breac,  in  the  Book  of  Lismore,  in  a  vellum  MS.  in 
Edinburgh,  and  in  an  Irish  parchment  volume  found  by  the 
Revolutionary  Commissioners,  during  the  Republic,  in  a 
private  house  in  Paris,  and  by  them  presented  to  the  Royal 
Library  of  that  city— 

"  Quae  regio  in  terris  nostri  non  plena  laboris  ! " 

This  life  has  been  printed  from  the  Book  of  Lismore  by 
Dr.  Whitley  Stokes.  The  last  and  most  copious  life  is  a 
compilation  of  all  existing  documents  and  poems  both  in 
Latin  and  Old  Irish,  and  was  made  by  order  of  O'Donnell 
in  1532. 

"  Be  it  known,"  says  the  preface,  "  to  the  readers  of  this  Life  that 
it  was  Manus,  son  of  Hugh,  son  of  Hugh  Roe,  son  of  Niall  Garv,  son 
of  Turlough  of  the  wise  O'Donnell,  who  ordered  the  part  of  this 
Life  which  was  in  Latin  to  be  put  into  Gaelic ;  and  who  ordered 
the  part  that  was  in  difficult  Gaelic  to  be  modified,  so  that  it  might 
be  clear  and  comprehensible  to  every  one  ;  and  who  gathered  and 
put  together  the  parts  of  it  that  were  scattered  through  the  old 

1  This  scene  took  place,  as  Dr.  Reeves  has  shown,  "  just  after  midnight 
between  Saturday  the  8th  and  Sunday  the  Qth  of  June,  in  the  year  597." 


I9o     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

Books  of  Erin  ;  and  who  dictated  it  out  of  his  own  mouth  with  great 
labour  and  a  great  expenditure  of  time  in  studying  how  he  should 
arrange  all  its  parts  in  their  proper  places,  as  they  are  left  here  in 
writing  by  us  ;  and  in  love  and  friendship  for  his  illustrious  saint, 
relative,  and  patron,  to  whom  he  was  devoutly  attached.  It  was  in 
the  Castle  of  Port-na-tri-namhad  [Lifford]  that  his  Life  was  indited, 
when  were  fulfilled  12  years  and  20  and  500  and  1000  of  the  age  of 
the  Lord." 

This  life,  written  in  a  large  vellum  folio,  is  preserved  in 
the  Bodleian  Library  at  Oxford  and  has  never  yet  been 
printed.1 

The  remains  of  Columcille,  which  after  a  three  days'  wake 
were  interred  in  lona,  were  left  undisturbed  for  close  upon  a 
hundred  years.  They  were  afterwards  disinterred  and  placed 
within  a  splendid  shrine  of  gold  and  silver,  which,  in  due  time, 
became  the  prey  of  the  marauding  Norsemen.  The  belief  is 
very  general  that  his  remains  found  their  last  resting-place  in 
Downpatrick,  along  with  those  of  St.  Patrick  and  St.  Brigit. 
The  present  appearance  of  the  spot  where  they  are  supposed 
to  lie,  may  be  gathered  from  the  indignant  verses  2  of  a  member 
of  a  now  defunct  literary  body,  to  which  I  had  the  honour  of 
belonging  some  years  ago,  one  of  those  numerous  Irish  literary 
societies  which  produce  verses  as  thick  as  leaves  in  Vallombrosa. 

"  I  stood  at  a  grave  by  the  outer  wall 

Of  the  Strangers'  Church  in  Down, 
All  lorn  and  lost  in  neglect,  and  crossed 

By  the  Church  of  the  Strangers'  frown. 
All  lorn  and  waste,  and  with  footsteps  crossed 

The  grave  of  our  Patrons  Three, 
Not  a  leaf  to  wave  o'er  that  lonely  grave 

That  seemed  not  a  grave  to  me  ! 

1  It  is  to  be  hoped  that  it  may  soon  see  the  light  as  one  of  the  volumes 
whose  publication  is  contemplated  by  the  new  Irish  Texts  Society.    The 
copy  of  it  used  by  Colgan  is  now  back  in  the  Franciscans'  Library  in 
Dublin,  a  beautiful  vellum  written  for  Niall  6g  O'Neill. 

2  P.  50  of  a  little  volume  called  "  Lays  and  Lyrics  of  the  Pan-Celtic 
Society,"  long  out  of  print,  by  P.  O'C.  MacLaughlin. 


COLUMCILLE  191 

But  a  trench  where  some  traitor  was  flung  of  yore — 

'Twas  "  a  sight  for  a  f oeman's  eye  "  ! 
Where  Patrick  still  and  Saint  Columbkille 

And  the  Dove *  of  the  Oak  Tree  lie. 


Those  men  who  spoke  bravely  of  rending  chains 

(And  never  a  fetter  broke  !) 
Those  men  who  adored  the  flashing  sword 

(When  never  a  tocsin  spoke !) 
Those  little  men,  who  are  very  great 

In  marble  and  bronze,  are  still 
The  city's  pride,  whilst  that  trench  holds  Bride 

And  Patrick  and  Columbkille  ! " 

1  Evidently  alluding  to  the  passage  in  her  Irish  life  which  says,  "  Her 
:ype  among  created  things  is  as  the  Dove  among  birds,  the  vine  among 
:rees,  and  the  sun  above  stars."  There  is  a  Latin  distich  on  this  grave  in 
Downpatrick  which  I  have  seen  somewhere, 

In  burgo  Duno  tumulo  tumulantur  in  uno 
Brigida  Patricius  atquc  Columba  plus. 


CHAPTER  XVI 

THE    FIRST    SCHOOLS    OF    CHRISTIAN    IRELAND 

ST.  PATRICK  and  the  early  Christians  of  the  fifth  century 
spent  much  of  their  time  and  labour  in  the  conversion  of 
pagans  and  the  building  of  churches.  Columcille  and  the 
leading  churchmen  of  the  sixth  century,  on  the  other  hand, 
gave  themselves  up  more  to  the  foundation  of  monastic 
institutions  and  the  conduct  of  schools.  They  belonged  to 
what  is  well  known  in  Irish  ecclesiastical  history  as  the  second 
Order  of  Saints.  The  first  Order  was  composed  of  Patrick  and 
his  associates,  bishops  filled  with  piety,  founders  of  churches, 
three  hundred  and  fifty  in  number,  mostly  Franks,  Romans, 
and  Britons,  but  with  some  Scots  [i.e.  Irish]  also  amongst  them. 
These  worshipped,  says  the  ancient  "  Catalogue  of  the  Saints," 
one  head — Christ,  and  followed  one  leader — Patrick.  They 
had  one  tonsure,  one  celebration  of  the  Mass,  and  one  Easter. 
They  mixed  freely  in  the  society  of  women,  because  they  feared 
not  the  wind  of  temptation,  and  this  first  Order  of  Saints,  as  it 
is  called,  is  reckoned  by  the  Irish  to  have  lasted  during  four 
reigns. 

The  next  Order  of  Saints  had  few  bishops  but  many  priests, 
this  was  the  order  to  which  Columcille  belonged,  and  most  of 
the  saints  who  founded  the  great  schools  of  Ireland  which  in 

192 


FIRST  SCHOOLS  OF  CHRISTIAN  IRELAND  193 

the  following  century  became  so  flourishing  and  spread  their 
fame  throughout  Europe,  as  those  of  Ciaran  and  Finnian  and 
Brendan,  and  a  score  of  others.  This  Order  shunned  all 
association  with  women,  and  would  not  have  them  in  their 
monasteries.1  These  saints  whilst  worshipping  God  as  their 
head,  and  celebrating  one  Easter  and  having  one  tonsure,  yet 
had  different  rites  for  celebrating,  and  different  rules  for  living. 
The  rite  with  which  they  celebrated  Mass  they  are  said  to 
have  secured  from  the  British  saints,  St.  David,  St.  Gildas,  and 
others.  They  also  lasted  for  four  reigns,  or,  roughly  speaking, 
during  the  last  three  quarters  of  the  sixth  century. 

After  these  came  what  is  called  the  third  Order  of  Saints  who 
appear  in  their  time  to  have  been  pre-eminent  amongst  the 
other  Christians,  and  to  have  been  mostly  anchorites,  who 
lived  on  herbs  and  supported  themselves  by  such  alms  as  they 
were  given,  despising  all  things  earthly  and  all  things  fleshly. 
They  observed  Easter  differently,  they  had  different  tonsures, 
they  had  different  rules  of  life,  and  different  rites  for  cele- 
brating Mass.  They  are  said  to  have  numbered  about  a 
hundred  and  to  have  lasted  down  to  the  time  of  the  great 
plague  in  664. 

This  third  Order, says  the  writer  of  the  "Catalogue  of  Saints," 
who  gives  their  names,  was  holy,  the  second  holier,  but  the  first 
Order  was  most  holy.  "  The  first  glowed  like  the  sun  in  the 
fervour  of  their  charity,  the  second  cast  a  pale  radiance  like  the 
moon,  the  third  shone  like  the  aurora.  These  three  Orders  the 
blessed  Patrick  foreknew,  enlightened  by  heavenly  wisdom, 
when  in  prophetic  vision  he  saw  at  first  all  Ireland  ablaze,  and 
afterwards  only  the  mountains  on  fire,  and  at  last  saw  lamps 
lit  in  the  valleys." 

By  the  middle  of  the  sixth  century  Ireland  had  been  honey- 
ombed  from  shore  to  shore  with  schools,  monasteries,  colleges, 


* 


1  It  is  a  common  tradition  that  Columcille  would  not  allow  a  cow  on 
lona,  because,  said  he,  "  where  there  is  a  cow  there  will  be  a  woman  "  ! 
This  tradition  is  entirely  contradicted,  however,  by  Adamnan's  life. 

N 


I94     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

(and  foundations  of  all  kinds  belonging  to  the  Christian  com- 
munity, and  books  had  multiplied  to  a  marvellous  extent.  At 
the  same  time  the  professional  bards  flourished  in  such  numbers 
that  Keating  says  that  "  nearly  a  third  of  the  men  of  Ireland 
belonged,  about  that  period,  to  the  poetic  order."  Omitting  for 
the  present  the  consideration  of  the  bards  and  the  non-Christian 
literature  of  poem  and  saga — mostly  anonymous — which  they 
produced,  we  must  take  a  rapid  survey  of  some  of  the  most 
important  of  the  Christian  schools,  whose  pious  professors, 
whose  number,  and  whose  learning,  secured  for  Ireland  the 
title  of  the  Island  of  Saints.  We  have  already  seen  how  the 
three  patron  saints  of  Ireland  established  their  schools  in 
Armagh,  Kildare,  and  lona,  and  their  example  was  followed 
by  hundreds. 

St.  Enda,  the  son  of  a  king  of  Oriel,  after  having  studied  at 
some  school  in  Great  Britain  (probably  with  St.  Ninian — who 
is  said  to  have  been  himself  an  Irishman — at  his  noble 
monastery  of  Candida  Casa  in  Galloway,  built  about  the 
year  400),  and  after  travelling  through  various  parts  of 
Ireland,  settled  down  finally  about  the  year  483  in  the 
rocky  and  inaccessible  island  of  Aran  Mor,  and  was  the 
first  of  those  holy  men  who  have  won  for  it  the  appel- 
lation of  Aran  of  the  Saints.  "  One  hundred  and  twenty- 
seven  saints  sleep  in  the  little  square  yard  around  Killeany 
Church  "  x  alone,  and  we  are  told  that  the  countless  numbers 
of  saints  who  have  mingled  their  clay  with  the  holy  soil  of 
Aran  will  never  be  known  until  the  day  of  Judgment. 
Here  most  of  the  saints  of  the  second  Order  repaired  sooner  or 
later,  to  be  instructed  by,  or  to  hold  converse  with  St.  Enda  ; 
amongst  them  Brendan  the  Voyager,  whose  wanderings,  under 
the  title  of  Navigatio  Brendani^  became  so  well  known  in  later 
ages  to  all  mediaeval  Europe.  To  him  also  came  St.  Finnian 
of  Clonard,  who  was  himself  celebrated  in  later  days  as  the  ' 
"Tutor  of  the  Saints  of  Erin."  From  the  remote  north  came 
1  Dr.  Healy's  "  Ireland's  Schools  and  Scholars,"  p.  169. 


FIRST  SCHOOLS  OF  CHRISTIAN  IRELAND  195 

Finnian  of  Moville,  Columcille's  first  teacher,  and  Ciaran,  the 
carpenter's  son,  the  illustrious  founder  of  Clonmacnois.  St. 
Jarlath  of  Tuam  was  there  too,  with  St.  Carthach  the  elder, 
of  Lismore,  and  with  St.  Keevin  of  Glendalough.  St. 
Columcille1  himself  was  amongst  Enda's  visitors,  and  tore 
himself  away  with  the  utmost  difficulty,  solacing  himself  by 
recourse  to  the  Irish  muse  as  was  his  wont — 

"  Farewell  from  me  to  Ara's  Isle, 

Her  smile  is  at  my  heart  no  more, 
No  more  to  me  the  boon  is  given 
With  hosts  of  heaven  to  walk  her  shore. 

How  far,  alas  !  how  far,  alas  ! 

Have  I  to  pass  from  Ara's  view, 
To  mix  with  men  from  Mona's  fen, 

With  men  from  Alba's  mountains  blue. 

Bright  orb  of  Ara,  Ara's  sun, 

Ah  !  softly  run  through  Ara's  sky, 
To  rest  beneath  thy  beam  were  sweeter 

Than  lie  where  Paul  and  Peter  lie, 

O  Ara,  darling  of  the  West, 

Ne'er  be  he  blest  who  loves  not  thee, 

O  God,  cut  short  her  foeman's  breath, 
Let  Hell  and  Death  his  portion  be. 

O  Ara,  darling  of  the  West, 

Ne'er  be  he  blest  who  loves  not  thee, 

Herdless  and  childless  may  he  go 
In  endless  woe  his  doom  is  dree. 

O  Ara,  darling  of  the  West, 

Ne'er  be  he  blest  who  loves  thee  not, 

When  angels  wing  from  heaven  on  high 
And  leave  the  sky  for  this  dear  spot."  3 

1  There  is  a  story  of  Columcille  when  in  Aran  discovering  the  grave 
an  "  abbot  of  Jerusalem  "  who  had  come  to  see  Enda,  and  died  there, 
rinted  by  Kuno  Meyer  from  Rawlinson  B.  512  in  the  "  Gaelic  Journal," 

1.  iv.  p.  162. 

1  Literally  :  "  Farewell  from  me  to  Ara,  it  is  it  anguishes  my  heart  not  to 
in  the  west  among  her  waves,  amid  groups  of  the  saints  of  heaven.  It 

far,  alas  !  it  is  far,  alas  !    I  have  been  sent  from  Ara  West,  out  towards 


1 96      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

Another  early  school  was  that  founded  by  St.  Finnian  at 
Cluain  Eraird,  better  known  under  its  corrupt  form  Clonard, 
a  spot  hard  by  the  river  Boyne,  to  which  students  from  both 
north  and  south  resorted  in  great  numbers.  Finnian,  who 
was  of  the  Clanna  Rury,  or  Irian  race,  had  been  baptized  by 
Bishop  Fortchern,  who — so  quickly  did  the  Christian  cause 
progress — was  a  grandson  of  King  Laeghaire,  who  withstood 
St.  Patrick.  This  Fortchern,  too,  like  Brigit's  favourite 
bishop,  was  a  skilled  artificer  in  bronze  and  metal,  a  calling 
to  which  many  of  the  early  saints  evinced  a  strong  bias. 
Clonard  even  during  Finnian's  lifetime  became  a  great  school, 
and  three  thousand  students  are  said  to  have  been  gathered 
round  it,  amongst  them  the  so-called  Twelve  Apostles  of  Erin. 
These  are  Ciaran  of  Clonmacnois  and  Ciaran  of  Saigher,  who 
is  patron  saint  of  Ossory  ;  Brendan  of  Birr,  the  "  prophet," 
and  Brendan  of  Clonfert,  the  "  navigator "  ;  Columba  of 
Tir-da-glass  and  Columcille ;  Mobhi  of  Glasnevin  and— 
tnfaustum  nomen  ! — Rodan  of  Lothra  or  Lorrha  ;  Senanus  of 
Iniscathy,  whose  name  is  known  to  the  lovers  of  the  poet 
Moore  ;  Ninnidh  of  Loch  Erne  ;  Lasserian,  and  St.  Cainnech 
of  Kilkenny,  known  in  Scotland  as  Kenneth,  and  second  in 
that  country  only  to  St.  Columcille  and  St.  Brigit  in  popularity. 
The  school  of  Clonard  was  founded  about  the  year  520,  when, 
to  quote  the  rather  jingling  hymn  from  St.  Finnian's  office — 

"  Re  versus  in  Clonardiam 
Ad  cathedram  lecturae 
Opponit  diligentiam 
Ad  studium  scripturae." 

the  population  of  Mona  to  visit  the  Albanachs.  Ara  sun,  oh  Ara  sun,  mj 
affection  lies  buried  in  her  in  the  west,  it  is  the  same  to  be  beneath 
pure  soil  as  to  be  beneath  the  soil  of  Paul  and  Peter.  Ara  blessed,  0 
Ara  blessed,  woe  to  him  who  is  hostile  to  her,  may  he  be  given  for  it 
shortness  of  life  and  hell.  Ara  blessed,  O  Ara  blessed,  woe  to  him  who  is 
hostile  to  her,  may  their  cattle  decay  and  their  children,  and  be  he  hin 
on  the  other  side  (of  this  life)  in  evil  plight.  O  Ara  blessed,  O  Ara  bles 
woe  to  him  who  is  hostile  to  her,"  etc. 


FIRST  SCHOOLS  OF  CHRISTIAN  IRELAND  197 

The  numbers  who  attended  his  teaching  are  given  in  another 
verse — 

"  Trium  virorum  millium 

Sorte  fit  doctor  humilis, 
Verbi  his  fudit  fluvium 
Ut  fons  emanans  rivulis." 

Like  all  the  other  early  Irish  foundations  which  attained  to 
wealth  and  dignity  before  the  ninth  century,  Clonard  suffered 
in  proportion  to  its  fame.  It  was  after  that  date  plundered  and 
destroyed  twelve  times,  and  was  fourteen  times  burnt  down 
either  wholly  or  in  part.  That  being  so,  it  is  not  much  to  be 
wondered  at  that  there  only  remains  a  single  surviving  literary 
work  of  this  school,  which  is  the  u  Mystical  Interpretation  of 
the  Ancestry  of  our  Lord  Jesus  Christ,"  by  St.  Aileran  the 
Wise,  one  of  Finnian's  successors,  who  died  of  the  great  plague 
in  664.  This  piece,  like  so  many  others,  was  found  in  the 
Swiss  monastery  of  St.  Gall,  whither  it  had  been  brought  by 
some  monks  from  Ireland.  The  editors  who  printed  it  for  the 
Benedictines  in  the  seventeenth  century  say  that,  although  the 
writer  did  not  belong  to  their  Order,  they  publish  it  because 
he  "  unfolded  the  meaning  of  sacred  scripture  with  so  much 
learning  and  ingenuity  that  every  student  of  the  sacred 
volume,  and  especially  preachers  of  the  Divine  Word,  will 
regard  the  publication  as  most  acceptable."  The  learned 
editors  could  have  hardly  paid  the  Irish  writer  a  higher 
compliment.  "A  Short  Moral  Explanation  of  the  Sacred 
Names  "  is  another  still  existing  fragment  of  Aileran's,  and 
"whether  we  consider  the  style  of  the  latinity,  the  learning, 
or  the  ingenuity  of  the  writer,"  says  Dr.  Healy,  "  it  is  equally 
marvellous  and  equally  honourable  to  the  school  of  Clonard." 
Aileran  is  said  to  have  also  written  lives  of  St.  Patrick,  St. 
Brigit,  and  St.  Fechin  of  Fore,  and  to  be  the  original  author 
of  a  litany,  part  Irish,  part  Latin,  preserved  in  the  Yellow 
look  of  Lecan. 
Another  great  Irish  college  was  Clonfert  on  the  Shannon, 


198      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

founded  about  the  year  556  by  Brendan  the  Navigator,  who, 
like  Finnian,  came  of  the  Irian  race,  being  descended  from 
Fergus  mac  Roy.1  He  was  born  towards  the  close  of  the 
fifth  century,  and  his  school,  too,  became  very  famous,  having, 
it  is  said,  produced  as  many  as  three  thousand  monks.  The 
influence  of  the  Navlgatio  Brendani^  by  whomsoever  written, 
was  immense,  and  was  felt  through  all  Europe,  so  that  in 
many  of  the  great  continental  libraries  good  MS.  copies  of 
it,  sometimes  very  ancient,  may  be  found.2  But  perhaps 
Brendan's  grand-nephew  and  pupil  may  have  indirectly  in- 
fluenced European  literature  in  a  still  more  important  manner. 
This  was  Fursa,  afterwards  St.  Fursa,  whose  visions  were 
known  all  over  Ireland,  Great  Britain,  and  France.  There 
can  be  no  doubt  about  the  substantial  accuracy  of  St.  Fursa's 
lite,  for  Bede  himself,  who  dedicates  a  good  deal  of  space  to 
Fursa's  visions,3  refers  to  it.  It  must  have  been  written  within 
ten  or  fifteen  years  after  his  death,  because  it  refers  to  the 
plague  and  the  great  eclipse  of  the  sun  which  happened  last 
year^  that  is  664.  Now  Dante  was  acquainted  with  Bede's 
writings,  for  he  expressly  mentions  him,  and  Bede's  account 
of  Fursa  and  Fursa's  own  life  may  have  been  familiar  to  him, 
and  furnished  him  with  the  groundwork  of  part  of  the  Divine 
Comedy  of  which  it  seems  a  kind  of  prototype.4 

1  See  p.  69,  note. 

2  It  has  been  edited  both  by  a  Frenchman,  M.  Jubinal,  and  a  German,  Karl 
Schroeder,  from  eleventh,  twelfth,  and  thirteenth  century  MSS.  preserved 
in  Paris,  Leipsic,  and  Wolfenbuttel,  and  by  Cardinal  Moran  from,  I  believe, 
a  ninth-century  one  in  the  Vatican.     Giraldus  Cambrensis  alludes  to  it  as 
well  known  in  his  time,  "  Haec  autem  si  quis  audire  gestierit  qui  de  vita 
Brendani  scriptus  est  libellum  legat"  ("Top.  Hib.,"  II.  ch.  43).    There 
is  a  copy  of  Brendan's  acts  in  the  so-called  Book  of  Kilkenny  in  Marsh's 
Library,  Dublin,  a  MS.  of  probably  the  fourteenth  century. 

s  "  Eccles.  Hist.,"  lib.  iii.  c.  19.  He  calls  him  "  Furseus,  verbo  et  actibus 
clarus  sed  et  egregiis  insignis  virtutibus,"  and  dedicates  five  pages  of  Mayer 
and  Lumby's  edition  to  an  account  of  him  and  his  visions. 

4  Father  O'Hanlon,  in  his  great  work  on  the  Irish  saints,  has  pointed 
out  a  large  number  of  close  parallels  between  Fursa's  vision  and  Dante's 
poem  which  seem  altogether  too  striking  tc  be  fortuitous.  (Sec  vol.  i. 


FIRST  SCHOOLS  OF  CHRISTIAN  IRELAND  199 

Brendan's  own  adventures  and  his  view  of  hell,  which  he 
was  shown  by  the  devil,  may  also  have  been  known  to  Dante. 
Brendan  prepared  three  vessels  with  thirty  men  in  each,  some 
clerics,  some  laymen,  and  with  these,  says  his  Irish  life  in 
the  Book  of  Lismore,  he  sailed  to  seek  the  Promised  Land, 
which,  evidently  influenced  by  the  old  pagan  traditions  of 
Moy  Mell  x  and  Hy  Brassil,  he  expected  to  find  as  an  island 
in  the  Western  Sea,  and  so  says  his  Irish  life  poetically — 

"Brendan,  son  of  Finnlug,  sailed  over  the  wave-voice  of  the 
strong-maned  sea,  and  over  the  storm  of  the  green-sided  waves, 
and  over  the  mouths  of  the  marvellous  awful  bitter  ocean,  where 
they  saw  the  multitude  of  the  furious  red-mouthed  monsters  with 
abundance  of  the  great  sea-whales.  And  they  found  beautiful 
marvellous  islands,  yet  they  tarried  not  therein." 

Like  Sindbad  in  the  Arabian  tales,2  they  land  upon  the  back 
of  a  great  whale  as  if  it  had  been  solid  land.  There  they 
celebrated  Easter.  They  endured  much  peril  from  the  sea. 
"  On  a  certain  day,  as  they  were  on  the  marvellous  ocean  " — 
this  adjective  is  strongly  indicative  of  the  spirit  in  which  the 
Celt  regards  the  works  of  nature — "  they  beheld  the  deep  bitter 
streams  and  the  vast  black  whirlpools  of  the  strong-maned  sea, 
and  in  them  their  vessels  were  being  constrained  to  founder 
because  of  the  greatness  of  the  storm."  Brendan,  however, 
cried  to  the  sea,  "  It  is  enough  for  thee,  O  mighty  sea,  to 
drown  me  alone,  but  let  this  folk  escape  thee,"  and  on  hearing 

pp.  115-120.)  There  are  a  poem  and  a  litany  attributed  to  St.  Fursa  in 
the  MS.  H.  I.  II.  in  Trinity  College,  Dublin.  The  visions  of  Purgatory 
seen  by  Dryhthelm,  a  monk  of  Melrose,  as  recorded  by  Bede,  which  are 
later  than  St.  Fursa's  vision,  are  conceived  very  much  in  the  same  style, 
only  are  much  more  doctrinal  in  their  purgatorial  teaching.  "  Tracing 
the  course  of  thought  upwards,"  says  Sir  Francis  Palgrave  ("History  of 
Normandy  and  England  "),  "  we  have  no  difficulty  in  deducing  the  poetic 
genealogy  of  Dante's  '  Inferno'  to  the  Milesian  Fursaeus." 

1  See  above,  p.  97. 

2  The  same  story,  as  Whitley  Stokes  points  out,  is  told  in  two  ninth- 
century  lives  of  St.  Machut,  so  that  a  tenth-century  version  of  Sindbad's 
first  voyage  cannot  have  been  the  origin  of  it. 


200      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

his  cry  the  sea  grew  calm.     It  was  after  this  that  Brendan  got 
a  view  of  hell. 

"  On  a  certain  day,"  says  the  Irish  Life,  "  that  they  were  on  the 
sea,  the  devil  came  in  a  form  old,  awful,  hideous,  foul,  hellish,  and 
sat  on  the  rail  of  the  vessel  before  Brendan,  and  none  of  them  saw 
him  save  Brendan  alone.  Brendan  asked  him  why  he  had  come 
before  his  proper  time,  that  is,  before  the  time  of  the  great  resurrec- 
tion. '  For  this  have  I  come,'  said  the  devil, '  to  seek  my  punishment 
in  the  deep  closes  of  this  black,  dark  sea.'  Brendan  inquired  of  him, 
'  What  is  this,  where  is  that  infernal  place  ? '  '  Sad  is  that,'  said  the 
devil ;  '  no  one  can  see  it  and  remain  alive  afterwards.'  Howbeit  the 
devil  there  revealed  the  gate  of  hell  to  Brendan,  and  Brendan  beheld 
that  rough,  hot  prison  full  of  stench,  full  of  flame,  full  of  filth,  full  of 
the  camps  of  the  poisonous  demons,  full  of  wailing  and  screaming 
and  hurt  and  sad  cries  and  great  lamentations  and  moaning  and 
handsmiting  of  the  sinful  folks,  and  a  gloomy,  mournful  life  in  hearts 
of  pain,  in  igneous  prisons,  in  streams  of  the  rows  of  eternal  fire,  in 
the  cup  of  eternal  sorrow  and  death,  without  limit,  without  end  ;  in 
black,  dark  swamps,  in  fonts  of  heavy  flame,  in  abundance  of  woe 
and  death  and  torments,  and  fetters,  and  feeble  wearying  combats, 
with  the  awful  shouting  of  the  poisonous  demons,  in  a  night  ever- 
dark,  ever-cold,  ever-stinking,  ever-foul,  ever-misty,  ever-harsh, 
ever-long,  ever-stifling,  deadly,  destructive,  gloomy,  fiery-haired,  of 
the  loathsome  bottom  of  hell.  On  sides  of  mountains  of  eternal 
fire,  without  rest,  without  stay,  were  hosts  of  demons  dragging  the 
sinners  into  prisons  .  .  .  black  demons  ;  stinking  fires ;  streams  of 
poison  ;  cats  scratching ;  hounds  rending ;  dogs  baying  ;  demons 
yelling ;  stinking  lakes  ;  great  swamps  ;  dark  pits  ;  deep  glens  ;  high 
mountains  ;  hard  crags  ;  .  .  .  winds  bitter,  wintry ;  snow  frozen, 
ever-dropping ;  flakes  red,  fiery ;  faces  base,  darkened ;  demons 
swift,  greedy  ;  tortures  vast,  various." * 

This  is  one  of  the  earliest  attempts  in  literature  at  the  pour- 
trayal  of  an  Inferno. 

1  This  is  evidently  the  passage  upon  which  Keating's  description  of  hell 
in  the  "  Three  Shafts  of  Death,"  Leabh.  III.  allt.  ix.,  x.,  xi.,  is  modelled.  He 
quite  outdoes  his  predecessor  in  declamation  and  exuberance  of  alliterative 
adjectives.  Compare  also  the  description  in  the  vision  of  Adamnan  of  the 
infernal  regions  as  it  is  elaborated  in  the  copy  in  the  Leabhar  Breac,  in 
contradistinction  to  the  more  sober  colouring  of  the  older  Leabhar  na 
h-Uidhre. 


FIRST  SCHOOLS  OF  CHRISTIAN  IRELAND  201 

After  a  seven-years'  voyage  Brendan  returned  home  to  his 
own  country  without  having  found  his  Earthly  Paradise,  and 
his  people  and  his  follc  at  home  "  brought  him,"  says  the  Irish 
Life,  "treasures  and  gifts  as  if  they  were  giving  them  to 
God  "  ! 

His  foster-mother  St.  Ita  now  advised  him  not  to  put  forth 
in  search  of  that  glorious  land  in  those  dead  stained  skins  which 
formed  his  currachs,  for  it  was  a  holy  land  he  sought,  and  he 
should  look  for  it  in  wooden  vessels.  Then  Brendan  built 
himself  "a  great  marvellous  vessel,  distinguished  and  huge." 
He  first  sailed  to  Aran  to  consort  with  St.  Enda,  but  after  a 
month  he  heaved  anchor  and  sailed  once  more  into  the 
West. 

He  reaches  the  Isle  of  Paradise  after  many  adventures,  and  is 
invited  on  shore  by  an  old  man  "  without  any  human  raiment, 
but  all  his  body  full  of  bright  white  feathers  like  a  dove 
or  a  sea-mew,  and  it  was  almost  the  speech  of  an  angel  that 
he  had."  "O  ye  toilsome  men,"  he  said,  "O  hallowed 
pilgrims,  O  folk  that  entreat  the  heavenly  rewards,  O  ever- 
weary  life  expecting  this  land,  stay  a  little  now  from  your 
labour."  The  land  is  described  in  terms  that  forcibly  record 
the  delights  of  the  pagan  Elysium  of  Moy  Mell,  and  prove  how 
intimately  the  Brendan  legend  is  bound  up  with  primitive  pre- 
Christian  mythological  beliefs.  "  The  delightful  fields  of  the 
land  "  are  described  as  "  radiant,  famous,  lovable," — "  a  land 
odorous,  flower-smooth,  blessed,  a  land  many-melodied,  musical, 
shouting-for-joy,  unmournful."  "  Happy,"  said  the  old  man, 
"shall  he  be  with  well-deservingness  and  with  good  deeds, 
whom  B randan,  son  of  Finnlug,  shall  call  into  union  with  him 
on  that  side  to  inhabit  for  ever  and  ever  the  island  whereon  we 
stand." 

But  better  known — at  least  in  ecclesiastical  history — than 
even  St.  Brendan,  is  St.  Cummian,  surnamed  "fada"  or  the 
Long,  who  was  one  of  his  successors  in  the  school  of  Clonfert, 
and  who  perished  in  or  a  little  before  the  great  plague  of  664. 


202      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

There  are  two  hymns,  one  by  himself  in  Latin,1  and  one  in 
Irish  by  his  tutor,  Colman  Ua  Cluasaigh  [Clooasy]  of  Cork, 
preserved  in  the  "  Liber  Hymnorum."  But  his  great  achieve- 
ment was  his  celebrated  letter  on  the  Paschal  question  addressed 
to  his  friend  Segienus,  the  abbot  of  lona.  The  question  of 
when  to  celebrate  Easter  day  was  one  which  long  sundered 
the  British  and  Irish  Churches  from  the  rest  of  Europe,  and 
has,  as  students  of  ecclesiastical  history  know,  given  rise  to  all 
sorts  of  conjectures  as  to  the  independence  of  these  churches. 
The  charge  against  the  Irish  was  that  they  celebrated  Easter 
on  any  day  from  the  fourteenth  to  the  twentieth  day  of  the 
moon,  even  on  the  fourteenth  if  it  should  happen  to  be  Sunday, 
but  the  fourteenth  was  a  Jewish  festival  and  the  Council  of  Nice 
had,  in  325,  declared  it  to  be  unlawful  to  celebrate  the  Christian 
Easter  on  a  Jewish  festival.2  The  Irish  had  obtained  their  own 
doctrine  of  Easter  from  the  East,  through  Gaul,  which  was 
largely  open  to  Eastern  influence ;  also  the  Irish  used  the  old 
Roman  cycle  of  84  years,  not  the  newer  and  more  correct 
Alexandrian  one  of  19  years.  The  consequence  was  the 
scandal  of  having  different  Churches  of  Christendom  celebrating 
Easter  on  different  days,  and  some  mourning  when  others  were 

1  Beginning  : — 

"  Celebra  Juda  festa  Christi  gaudia 
Apostulorum  exultans  memoria. 

Claviculari  Petri  primi  pastoris 
Piscium  rete  evangelii  corporis 
Alleluia." 

This  hymn,  says  Dr.  Todd,  "  bears  evident  marks  of  the  high  antiquity 
claimed  for  it,  and  there  seem  no  reasonable  grounds  for  doubting  its 
authenticity." 

2  "  The  correct  system  lays  down  three  principles.    First,  Easter  day 
must  be  always  a  Sunday,  never  on  but  next  after  the  fourteenth  day  of  the 
moon  ;  secondly,  that  fourteenth  day  of  the  full  moon  should   be  that 
on  or  next  after  the  vernal  equinox  ;  and  thirdly,  the  equinox  itself  was 
invariably  assigned  to  the  2ist  of  March"  (Dr.  Healy's  "  Ireland's  Schools 
and  Scholars,"  p.  234).  At  Rome  the  i8th  had  been  regarded  as  the  equinox ; 
St.  Patrick,  however,  rightly  laid  it  down  that  the  equinox  took  place  on  • 
the  2ist. 


FIRST  SCHOOLS  OF  CHRISTIAN  IRELAND  203 

feasting,  a  scandal  which  the  Epistle  of  Cummian  was  designed 
to  put  an  end  to. 

"  I  call  this  letter,"  says  Professor  G.  Stokes,1  "  a  marvellous  con- 
position  because  of  the  vastness  of  its  learning  ;  it  quotes  besides  the 
Scriptures  and  Latin  authors,  Greek  writers  like  Origen,  and  Cyril, 
Pachomius  the  head  and  reformer  of  Egyptian  monasticism,  and 
Damascius  the  last  of  the  celebrated  neo-Platonic  philosophers  of 
Athens,  who  lived  about  the  year  500,  and  wrote  all  his  works  in 
Greek.  Cummian  discusses  the  calendars  of  the  Macedonians, 
Hebrews,  and  Copts,  giving  us  the  Hebrew,  Greek,  and  Egyptian 
names  of  months  and  cycles,  and  tells  us  that  he  had  been  sent  as 
one  of  a  deputation  of  learned  men  a  few  years  before  to  ascertain 
:he  practice  of  the  Church  of  Rome.  When  they  came  to  Rome 
hey  lodged  in  one  hospital  with  a  Greek  and  a  Hebrew,  an  Egyptian, 
and  a  Scythian,  who  told  them  that  the  whole  world  celebrated  the 
Roman  and  not  the  Irish  Easter." 

Cummian  throughout  this  letter  displays  the  true  spirit  of  a 
cholar,  he  humbly  apologises  for  his  presumption  in  addressing 
uch  holy  men,  and  calls  God  to  witness  that  he  is  actuated  by 
no  spirit  of  pride  or  contempt  for  others.     When  the  new 
cycle  of  532  years  was  first  introduced  into  Ireland  he  did  not 
at  once  accept  it,  but  held  his  peace  and  took  no  side  in  the 
matter,    because    he  did    not   think  himself  wiser    than    the 
rlebrews,  Greeks,  and  Latins,  nor  did  he  venture  to  disdain 
the  food  he  had  not  yet  tasted.     So  he  retired  for  a  whole  year 
nto  the  study  of  the  question,  to  examine  for  himself  the  facts 
of  history,  the  nature  of  the  various  cycles  in  use,  and  the 
testimony  of  Scripture. 

There  is  another  book,  "De  Mensura  Pcenitentiarum," 
ascribed  to  Cummian  and  printed  in  Migne ;  and  there  is  a 
poem  on  his  death  by  his  tutor,  St.  Colman,  who  was  carried 
off  by  the  same  plague  a  short  time  after  him.2 

1  Late  professor  of  Ecclesiastical  History  in  Dublin  University.      See 
'Proceedings  of  the  Royal  Irish  Academy,"  May,  1892,  p.  195. 
*  The  first  verse  runs  thus  : — 

"  Ni  beir  Luimneach  for  a  druim 
Di  sil  Muimhneach  i  Leth  Cuinn 
Marban  in  noi  bu  fiu  do 
Do  Cuimmine  mac  Fiachno  " — 


204      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

The  great  institution  presided  over  by  St.  Cummian  was 
flourishing  in  full  vigour  at  the  time  of  the  first  incursions  of 
the  Northmen.  It  is  frequently  mentioned  in  the  Irish  Annals 
as  a  place  of  note  and  learning.  Turgesius  the  Dane,  attracted 
by  so  fair  a  booty,  promptly  plundered  and  burnt  it  to  the 
ground.  Again  and  again  it  was  rebuilt,  and  again  and  again 
the  same  fate  befell  it.  The  monastery  and  the  school 
survived,  however,  until  the  coming  of  the  Normans,  and  the 
"Four  Masters"  under  the  year  1170  record  the  death  of  one 
of  its  teachers,  Cormac  O'Lumlini,  whom  they  pathetically 
designate  u  the  remnant  of  the  sages  of  Erin,"  for  by  this  time 
Clonfert  had  been  six  times  burnt  and  four  times  plundered. 

Even  a  greater  school,  however,  than  Clonfert,  was  that 
founded  by  St.  Ciaran  [Keeran],  the  carpenter's  son,  beside  a 
curve  in  the  Shannon,  at  Clonmacnois,  not  far  from  Athlone, 
about  the  year  544.  He  had  himself  been  educated  by  St. 
Finnian  of  Clonard,  and  he  died  at  the  early  age  of  thirty- 
three,  immediately  after  laying  the  foundations  of  what  was 
destined  to  become  the  greatest  Christian  college  in  Ireland.1 

The  monastery  and  cells  of  St.  Ciaran  rapidly  grew  into  a 
city,  to  which  students  flocked  from  far  and  near.  In  one 
sense  the  College  of  Clonmacnois  had  an  advantage  over  all  its 
rivals,  for  it  belonged  to  no  one  race  or  clan.  Its  abbots  and 
teachers  were  drawn  from  many  different  tribes,  and  situated 
as  it  was,  in  almost  the  centre  of  the  island,  all  the  great  races, 
Erimonians,  Eberians,  Irians,  and  Ithians,  resorted  to  it 
impartially,  and  it  became  a  real  university.  There  the 
O'Conors,  kings  of  Connacht,  had  their  own  separate  church ; 
there  the  Southern  Ui  Neill  reared  apart  their  own  cathedral ; 
there  the  MacDermots,  princes  of  Moylurg,  and  the 

"  The  lower  Shannon  bears  not  upon  its  surface,  of  Munster  race  in  Leath 
Cuinn,  any  corpse  in  boat,  equal  to  him,  to  Cuimin,  son  of  Fiachna."  His 
corpse  was  apparently  brought  home  by  water. 

1  There  is  a  verse  ascribed  to  Ciaran  in  the  "  Chronicon  Scotorum," 
beginning  "  Darerca  mo  mhathair-si,"  and  a  poem  ascribed  to  him  in 
H.  i.  ii.  Trinity  College,  Dublin. 


FIRST  SCHOOLS  OF  CHRISTIAN  IRELAND  205 

O'Kellys,  kings  of  Hy  Mainy,  had  each  their  own  mortuary 
chapels ;  there  the  Southerns  built  one  round  tower,  the 
O'Rorkes  another ;  and  there  too  the  Mac  Carthys  of  Munster 
had  a  burial-place.  Who,  even  at  this  day,  has  not  heard  of 
the  glories  of  Clonmacnois,  of  its  ruins,  its  graves,  its  crosses  ; 
of  its  churchyard,  which  possesses  a  greater  variety  of  sculp- 
tured and  decorated  stones  than  perhaps  all  the  rest  of  Ireland 
put  together,  and  of  which  the  Irish  poet  beautifully  sang  so 
long  ago— 

"  In  a  quiet  watered  land,  a  land  of  roses, 

Stands  St.  Ciaran's  city  fair, 

And  the  warriors  of  Erin  in  their  famous  generations, 
Slumber  there. 

There  beneath  the  dewy  hill-side  sleep  the  noblest 

Of  the  clan  of  Conn, 
Each  below  his  stone,  with  name  in  branching  Ogham, 

And  the  sacred  knot  thereon. 

There  they  laid  to  rest  the  seven  kings  of  Tara, 

There  the  sons  of  Cairbre  sleep, 
Battle-banners  of  the  Gael  that  in  Ciaran's  Plain  of  Crosses, 

Now  their  final  hosting  keep. 

And  in  Clonmacnois  they  laid  the  men  of  Teffia, 

And  right  many  a  lord  of  Breagh. 
Deep  the  sod  above  Clan  Creide  and  Clan  Conaill, 

Kind  in  hall  and  fierce  in  fray. 

Many  and  many  a  son  of  Conn  the  Hundred-Fighter 

In  the  red  earth  lies  at  rest, 
Many  a  blue  eye  of  Clan  Colman  the  turf  covers, 

Many  a  swan-white  breast."  x 

1  Thus  admirably  translated  by  my  friend  Mr.  Rolleston  in  "  Poems 
and  Ballads  of  Young  Ireland,"  Dublin,  1888,  a  little  volume  which  seems 
to  have  been  the  precursor  of  a  considerable  literary  movement  in  Ireland. 
Literally  :  "  The  city  of  Ciaran  of  Clonmacnois,  a  dewy-bright  red-rose 
town,  of  its  royal  seed,  of  lasting  fame,  the  hosts  in  the  pure-streamed 
peaceful  town.  The  nobles  of  the  clan  of  Conn  are  in  the  flag-laid  brown- 
sloped  churchyard,  a  knot  or  a  branch  above  each  body  and  a  fair  correct 
name  in  Ogam.  The  sons  of  Cairbre  over  the  seven  territories,  the  seven 
great  princes  from  Tara,  many  a  sheltering  standard  on  a  field  of  battle  is 


206      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

Some  of  the  most  distinguished  scholars  of  Ireland,  if  not  of 
Europe,  were  educated  at  Clonmacnois,  including  Alcuin,  the 
most  learned  man  at  the  French  court,  who  remembered  his 
alma  mater  so  affectionately  that  he  extracted  from  King 
Charles  of  France  a  gift  of  fifty  shekels  of  silver,  to  which  he 
added  fifty  more  of  his  own,  and  sent  them  to  the  brotherhood 
of  Clonmacnois  as  a  gift,  with  a  quantity  of  olive  oil  for  the 
Irish  bishops.  His  affectionate  letter  to  "his  blessed  master 
and  pious  father  "  Colgan,  chief  professor  at  Clonmacnois,  is 
still  extant. 

This  Colgu,  or  Colgan,  himself  wrote  a  book  in  Irish,  called 
"The  Besom  of  Devotion,"  which  appears  to  be  now  lost. 
A  litany  of  his  still  remains.  The  great  eleventh-century 
annalist,  Tighearnach,  was  an  alumnus  of  Clonmacnois.  So, 
too,  was  the  reputed  author  of  the  "  Chronicon  Scotorum," 
O'Malone,  in  1123.  The  Annals  of  Clonmacnois  was  one 
of  the  books  in  the  hands  of  the  "  Four  Masters,"  but  it  is  now 
lost,  and  a  different  book  called  by  the  same  name  (the  original 

with  the  people  of  Ciaran's  Plain  of  Crosses.  The  men  of  Teffia,  the 
tribes  of  Breagh  were  buried  beneath  the  clay  of  Cluain[macnois].  The 
valiant  and  hospitable  are  yonder  beneath  the  sod,  the  race  of  Creide  and 
the  Clan  Conaill.  Numerous  are  the  sons  of  Conn  of  the  Battles,  with  red 
clay  and  turf  covering  them,  many  a  blue  eye  and  white  limb  under  the 
earth  of  Clan  Colman's  tomb."  The  first  verses  run  in  modern  spelling 
thus: 

"  Cathair  Chiarain  Chluain-mic-Nois 

Baile  drucht-solas,  dearg-rois. 

Da  shil  rioghraidh  is  buan  bladh 

Sluaigh  fa'n  sith-bhaile  sruth-ghlan. 

Ataid  uaisle  cloinne  Chuinn 
Fa'n  reilig  leacaigh  learg-dhuinn 
Snaoidhm  no  Craobh  os  gach  cholain 
Agus  ainm  caomh  ceart  Oghaim." 

The  clan  of  Conn  here  mentioned  are  principally  the  Ui  Neill  and  their 
correlatives.  Teffia  is  something  equivalent  to  Longford,  and  Breagh  to 
Meath.  Clan  Creide  are  the  O' Conors  of  Connacht,  and  the  Clan  Colman 
principally  means  the  O'Melaughlins  and  their  kin.  "  Colman  mor,  a  quo 
Clann  Cholmain  ie  Maoileachlain  cona  fflaithibh  "  (Mac  Firbis  MS.  Book 
of  Genealogies,  p.  161  of  O'Curry's  transcript).  Colman  was  the  brother 
of  King  Diarmuid,  who  was  slain  in  552. 


FIRST  SCHOOLS  OF  CHRISTIAN  IRELAND  207 

of  which  has  also  perished)  was  translated  into  English  by 
Macgeoghegan  in  I627-1  The  celebrated  Leabhar  na  h-Uidhre 
[Lowar  na  Heera]  or  "Book  of  the  Dun  Cow,"  compiled 
about  the  year  uoo,  emanated  from  this  centre  of  learning. 
Like  Clonfert,  and  every  other  home  of  Irish  civilisation,  the 
city  of  Clonmacnois  fell  a  prey  to  the  barbarians.  The  North- 
men plundered  it  or  burnt  it,  or  both,  on  ten  separate  occasions. 
Turgesius,  their  leader,  set  up  his  wife  Ota  as  a  kind  of 
priestess  to  deliver  oracles  from  its  high  altar;2  and  some  of 
he  Irish  themselves,  reduced  to  a  state  of  barbarism  by  the 
lorrors  of  the  period,  laid  their  sacrilegious  hands  upon  its 
loly  places  ;  and  afterwards  the  English  of  Athlone  stepped  in 
nd  completed  its  destruction.  It  now  remains  only  a  ruin  and 

name. 

Another  very  celebrated  school  was  that  of  Bangor,  on 
Belfast  Loch,  founded  by  Comgall,  the  friend  of  Columcille, 
>etween  550  and  560.  It  soon  became  crowded  with  scholars, 
nd  next  to  Armagh  it  was  certainly  the  greatest  school  of  the 
northern  province,  and  produced  men  of  the  highest  eminence 
kt  home  and  abroad.  Its  fame  reached  far  across  the  sea.  St. 
Bernard  called  it  "a  noble  institution,  which  was  inhabited  by 
hiany  thousands  of  monks;"  and  Joceline  of  Furness,  in  the 
twelfth  century,  called  it  "a  fruitful  vine  breathing  the  odour 
j)f  salvation,  whose  offshoots  extended  not  only  over  all  Ireland, 
put  far  beyond  the  seas  into  foreign  countries,  and  filled  many 
lands  with  its  abounding  fruitfulness." 

The  most  distinguished  of  Bangor's  sons  of  learning  were 
Columbanus,  the  evangeliser  of  portions  of  Burgundy  and  Lom- 

rdy  ;  St.  Gall,  the  evangeliser  of  Switzerland  ;   Dungal,  the 

tronomer ;  and  later  on,  in  the   twelfth  century,  Malachy 

Published  a  couple  of  years  ago  by  the  late  Father  Murphy,  S.J.,  for 
ic  Royal  Antiquarian  Society  of  Ireland. 

-  "  Airgid  cealla  ardnaomh  Ereann  uile  ocus  as  ar  altoir  Cluana  mac  Nois 
bhereadh  Otta  bean  Tuirghes  uirigheall  do  gach  ae[n] "  (Mac  Firbis 
[S.  of  Genealogies,  p.  768  in  O' Curry's  transcript).     Also  "  Gael  and 
"  p.  13. 


208      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

O'Morgair,  who,  though  not  known  as  an  author,  distinguished 
himself  in  the  province  of  Church  discipline. 

The  lives  of  St.  Columbanus  and  of  St.  Gall  belong  rather 
to  foreign  than  to  Irish  history,  but  we  may  glance  at  them 
again  in  another  place.  Dungal,  poet,  astronomer,  and 
theologian,  was  also  like  them,  for  a  time,  an  exile.  His  identity 
is  uncertain  ;  the  "Four  Masters"  mention  twenty-two  persons 
of  the  same  name  between  the  years  744  and  1015,  but  his 
Irish  nationality  is  certain,  and  he  calls  himself  "  Hibernicus 
exul "  in  his  poem  addressed  to  his  patron  Charlemagne.  He 
appears  to  have  died  in  the  Irish  monastery  at  Bobbio,  in  North 
Italy,  to  which  he  left  his  library,  and  amongst  other  books  the 
celebrated  Antiphonary  of  Bangor,  his  possession  of  which  seems 
to  warrant  us  in  supposing  that  Bangor  was  his  original  college. 
He  appears  to  have  been  a  close  friend  of  Charlemagne's,  and 
in  811  he  wrote  him  his  celebrated  letter,  explanatory  of  the 
two  solar  eclipses  which  had  taken  place  the  year  before.  The 
emperor  could  apparently  find  at  his  court  no  other  astronomer 
of  sufficient  learning  to  explain  the  phenomena.  Later  on  we 
find  Dungal,  at  the  request  of  Lothaire,  Charlemagne's  grand- 
son, opening  a  school  at  Pavia  to  civilise  the  Lombards,  to] 
which  institution  great  numbers  of  students  flocked  from 
every  quarter.  Dungal  may,  in  fact,  be  regarded  as  the.: 
founder  of  the  University  of  Pavia.  His  greatest  effort  whilst 
in  Pavia  was  his  work  against  the  Iconoclasts.  Dungal's  attack 
upon  the  cultured  Spanish  bishop,  Claudius,  who  championed 
them,  as  it  was  the  first,  so  it  appears  to  have  been  the  ablest 
blow  struck  ;  and  Western  iconoclasm  seemed  to  have  for  the 
time  received  a  mortal  wound  from  his  hand.1  Besides  his  long 
eulogy  on  his  friend  and  patron  Charlemagne,  several  other  smaller 

1  Claudius  was  Bishop  of  Turin,  and  a  man  of  much  culture  and  ability ; 
so  disgusted  was  he  with  the  congregation  of  ignorant  Italian  bishops- 
culture  was  then  at  the  lowest  ebb  in  Italy — before  whom  he  argued  his 
case  that  he  called  them  a  congregatio  asinorum,  and  says  Zimmer,  "  Ein 
Ire,  Dungal,  musste  fur  sie  die  Vertheidigung  des  Bilderdienstes  iiber- 
nehmen." 


FIRST  SCHOOLS  OF  CHRISTIAN  IRELAND  209 

poems  of  his  survive,  showing  him  to  have  been — like  almost 
all  Irishmen  of  that  date — no  mere  pedant  and  student. 

Like  almost  all  the  more  famous  and  attractive  of  the  Irish 
colleges,  Bangor  suffered  fearfully  from  the  attacks  of  the 
northern  pirates,  who,  according  to  St.  Bernard,  slew  there  as 
many  as  nine  hundred  monks.  "  Not  a  cross,  not  even  a 
stone,"  says  Dr.  Healy,  "  now  remains  to  mark  the  site  of  the 
famous  monastery,  whose  crowded  cloisters  for  a  thousand 
years  overlooked  the  pleasant  islets  and  broad  waters  of  Inver 
Becne."  It  has  shared  the  fate  of  its  compeers  : 

etiam  periere  ruina\ 

It  would  prove  too  tedious  to  enumerate  the  other  Irish 
colleges  which  dotted  the  island  in  the  sixth  and  seventh 
centuries.  The  most  remarkable  of  them  besides  those  that 
I  have  mentioned  were  Moville,  at  the  head  of  Loch  Cuan 
or  Strangford  Lough,  in  the  County  Down,  founded  by  St. 
Finnian,  who  was  born  before  500,  and  who  afterwards  became 
known  as  Frigidius,  Bishop  of  Lucca,  in  Switzerland.  Colman, 
whose  hymn  is  preserved  in  the  "  Liber  Hymnorum,"  and 
Marianus  Scotus,  the  Chronicler,  were  alumni  of  Moville. 

Cluain  Eidnech,  or  Clonenagh,  the  "  Ivy  Meadow,"  was 
founded  by  St.  Fintan,  near  Maryborough,  in  the  present 
Queen's  County.  Angus  the  Culdee,  who  with  its  Abbot 
Maelruain  is  said  to  have  composed  the  Martyrology  of 
jTallaght  prior  to  792,  was  its  greatest  ornament.  Of  his 
Irish  works  we  shall  have  more  to  say  later  on.  Clonenagh 
(suffered  so  much  from  the  Northmen,  that  its  great  foundation 
jhad  already  in  the  twelfth  century  dwindled  to  a  parochial 

lurch  ;  in  the  nineteenth  it  is  a  green  mound. 

Glendalough,  founded  by  the  celebrated  St.  Kevin,1  became 
a  college  of  much  note.  St.  Moling,  to  whom  a  great 

Pronounced  "  Keevin,"  not  "  Kevin."  The  Irish  form  is  Caoimh- 
=keev,  "  aoi "  being  in  Irish  always  pronounced  like  ce,  and  "  mh  "  like  v] 
jhinn,  the  "  g  "  being  aspirated  is  scarcely  pronounced. 

o 


210     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

number  of  Irish  poems  x  are  ascribed,  was  one  of  his  successors 
in  the  seventh  century,  and  his  life  seems  to  have  taken 
peculiar  hold  upon  the  imagination  of  the  populace,  for  he  has 
more  poems — many  of  them  evident  forgeries — attributed  to 
him  than  we  find  ascribed  to  any  of  the  saints  except  to 
Columcille ;  and  he  has  a  place  amongst  the  four  great 
prophets  of  Erin.2  It  was  he  who  procured  the  remission  of 

1  The  celebrated  Evangelistarium,  or  Book  of  Moling,  was,  with  its  case 
or  cover,  deposited  in  Trinity  College,  Dublin,  ini  the  last  century  by  the 
Kavanaghs  of  Borris.    Giraldus  Cambrensis  classes  Moling  as  a  prophet 
with  Merlin,  and  as  a  saint  with  Patrick  and  Columba.      One  of  the 
prophecies  assigned  to  him  is  given  by  O'Curry,  MS.  Mat.,  p.  427.    The 
oldest  copy  of  any  of  Moling's  poems  is  in  the  monastery  of  St.  Paul  in 
Carinthia,  contained  in  a  MS.  originally  brought  from  Augia  Dives,  or 
Reichenau.    It  is  in  the  most  perfect  metre,  and  runs  :— 

"  Is  en  immo  niada  sas 
Is  nau  tholl  diant  eslinn  guas, 
Is  lestar  fas,  is  crann  crin 
Nach  digni  toil  ind  rig  tuas." 

("  He  is  a  bird  round  which  a  trap  closes, 
He  is  a  leaky  bark  in  weakness  of  peril, 
He  is  an  empty  vessel,  he  is  a  withered  tree 
Who  doth  not  do  the  will  of  the  King  above.") 

I.e.,  "Iseanum  a  n-iadhann  sas  /  is  nau'  (long)  thollta  darb'  eislinn  guais. 
Is  leastar  fas  (folamh)  "  is  crann  crion,  [an  te]  nach  ndeanann  toil  an  righ 
shuas." 

The  poem  is  also  given  in  the  Book  of  Leinster,  and  contains  eight 
verses.  One  would  perhaps  have  expected  the  third  line  to  run,  "  is  crann 
crin  is  lestar  fas."  The  St.  Paul  MS.,  which  is  of  the  eighth  century,  con- 
tains two  of  Molling's  poems,  and  they  scarcely  differ  in  wording  or 
orthography  from  copies  in  MSS.  six  hundred  years  later. 

2  Patrick,  Columcille,  and  Berchan  of  Clonsast,  are  the  others.    Even 
the  English  settlers  had  heard  of  their  fame.    Baron  Finglas,  writing  i 
Henry  VIII.'s  reign,  says,  "The  four  saints,  St.  Patrick,  St.  Columb,  S 
Braghane  [i.e.,  Berchan],  and  St.  Moling,  which  many  hundred  y 
agone  made  prophecy  that  Englishmen  should  have  conquered  Irela 
and  said  that  the  said  Englishmen  should  keep  their  owne  laws,  and  as 
soon  as  they  should  leave,  and  fall  to  Irish  order,  then  they  should  decay, 
the  experience  whereof  is  proved  true."     (From  Ryan's  "  History  and 
Antiquities  of  the  co.  Carlow,"  p.  93.)    A  still  more  curious  allusion  to  the    , 
four  Irish  prophets  is  one  in  the  Book  of  Howth,  a  small  vellum  folio  of 
the  sixteenth  century,  written  in  thirteen  different  hands,  published  in  the 
Calendar  of  State  Papers.     "  Men  say,"  recounts  the  anonymous  writer, 

*  that  the  Irishmen  had  four  prophets  in  their  time,  Patrick,  Marten  [sic], 


FIRST  SCHOOLS  OF  CHRISTIAN  IRELAND  211 

the  Boru  tribute  from  King  Finnachta  about  the  year  693. 
Glendalough  was  plundered  and  destroyed  by  the  Danes  five 
times  over,  within  a  period  of  thirty  years,  yet  it  to  some 
extent  recovered  itself,  and  the  great  St.  Laurence  O'Toole, 
who  was  Archbishop  of  Dublin  at  the  coming  of  the  Normans, 
had  been  there  educated. 

Lismore,  the  great  college  of  the  south-east,  was  founded  by 
St.  Carthach  in  the  beginning  of  the  seventh  century,  who  left 
behind  him,  according  to  O'Curry,  a  monastic  rule  of  580 
lines  of  Irish  verse.1  Cathal,  or  Cathaldus,  born  in  the 
beginning  of  the  seventh  century,  who  afterwards  became 
bishop  and  patron  saint  of  Tarentum,  in  Italy,  was  a  student, 
and  perhaps  professor  in  this  college.  The  office  of  St.  Cathal- 
dus states  that  Gauls,  Angles,  Irish,  and  Teutons,  and  very 
many  people  of  neighbouring  nations  came  to  hear  his  lectures 
at  Lismore,  and  Morini's  life  of  him  expresses  in  poetic  terms 
the  tradition  of  Lismore's  greatness.2  St.  Cuanna,  another 
member  of  Lismore,  was  probably  the  author  of  the  Book  or 

Brahen  [i.e.,  Berchan],  and  Collumkill.  Whosoever  hath  books  in  Irish 
written  every  of  them  speak  of  the  fight  of  this  conquest,  and  saith  that 
long  strife  and  oft  fighting  shall  be  for  this  land,  and  the  land  shall  be 
harried  and  stained  with  great  slaughter  of  men,  but  the  Englishmen  fully 
shall  have  the  mastery  a  little  before  doomsday,  and  that  land  shall  be 
from  sea  to  sea  i-castled  and  fully  won,  but  the  Englishmen  shall  be  after 
that  well  feeble  in  the  land  and  disdained  ;  so  Barcan  [Berchan]  saith  : 
that  through  a  king  shall  come  out  of  the  wild  mountains  of  St.  Patrick's, 
that  much  people  shall  slew  and  afterwards  break  a  castle  in  the  wooden 
of  Affayle,  with  that  the  Englishmen  of  Ireland  shall  be  destroyed  by 
that."  The  prophecy  that  the  Englishmen  fully  shall  have  the  mastery  a 
little  before  Doomsday  is  amusingly  equivocal ! 

1  Described  in  O'Curry's  MS.   Materials,  p.  375,  but  I  do  not  know 
where  the  original  is. 

2  Quoted    in    O'Halloran's    "  History    of    Ireland,"    bk.    ix.    chap.    4. 
"  Celeres  vastissima  Rheni  /  jam  vadaTeutonici,  jam  deseruere  Sicambri  ;  / 
Mittit  ab  extremo  gelidos  Aquilone  Boemos  /  Albis  et  Arvenni  coeunt, 
Batavi-que  frequentes,  /  Et  quicunque  colunt  alta  sub  rupe  Gebennas.  /  .  .  . 
Certatim  hi  properunt  diverso  tramite  ad  urbem  /  Lesmoriam  [Lismore] 

ijuvenis  primos  ubi  transigit  annos."  Sec  also  corroborative  proof  of  the 
numbers  of  Gauls,  Teutons,  Swiss,  and  Italians  visiting  Lismore  about  the 
year  700  in  Ussher's  "  Antiquities,"  Works,  vi.,  p.  303. 


212      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

Cuanach,  now  lost,  but  often  quoted  in  the  Annals  of 
Ulster.  He  died  in  650,  and  the  book  is  not  quoted  after 
the  year  628,  which  makes  it  more  than  probable  that  he  was 
the  author.  Lismore  was  burnt  down  by  the  Danes,  but 
recovered  itself  in  the  general  revival  of  native  institutions  that 
took  place  prior  to  the  conquest  of  the  Anglo-Normans. 
However,  when  these  latter  came  upon  the  Irish  stage  it  fared 
ill  with  Lismore.  Strongbow,  indeed,  was  bought  off  from 
burning  its  churches  in  1173  by  a  great  sum  of  money,  but  in 
the  following  year  his  son,  in  spite  of  this,  plundered  the  place. 
Four  years  later  the  English  forces  again  attacked  it,  plundered 
it,  and  set  it  on  fire.  In  1207  the  whole  town  and  all  about  it 
was  finally  consumed,  so  that  at  the  present  day  not  a  vestige 
remains  behind  of  its  schools,  its  cloisters,  or  its  twenty 
churches. 

Cork  college  was  founded  by  St.  Finnbarr  towards  the 
end  of  the  sixth  century.  One  of  its  professors,  Colman 
O'Cluasaigh,  who  died  in  664,  wrote  the  curious  Irish  hymn 
or  prayer  mixed  with  Latin,  preserved  in  the  Book  of 
Hymns.1  The  place  was  burned  four  times  between  822  and 
840,  but  in  the  twelfth  century  the  ancient  monastery  which 
had  fallen  into  decay  was  rebuilt  by  Cormac  Mac  Carthy,  king 

1  Reprinted  by  Windisch  in  his  "  Irische  Texte,"  Heft  I.,  p.  5.  The 
first  verse  runs — 

"  Sen  De  don  fe  for  don  te 
Mac  maire  ron  feladar  ! 
For  a  fhoessam  dun  anocht 
Cia  tiasam,  cain  temadar," 

which  is  in  no  wise  easy  to  translate  !  There  are  fifty-six  verses  not  all  in 
the  same  metre.  Another  acknowledges  St.  Patrick  as  a  patron  saint,  it 
would  run  thus,  in  modernised  orthography — 

"  Beannacht  ar  erlam  [patrun]  Padraig 
Go  naomhaib  Eireann  uime 
Beannacht  ar  an  gcathair-se 
Agus  ar  chach  bhfuil  innti ! 

A  three-quarter  Latin  verse  runs  thus — 

"  Regem  regum  rogamus/  in  nostris  sermonibus 
Anacht  Noe  a  luchtlach/  diluvi  temporibus." 


FIRST  SCHOOLS  OF  CHRISTIAN  IRELAND  213 

of  Munster,  and  builder  of  the  celebrated  Cormac's  Chapel 
at  Cashel. 

The  school  of  Ross  was  founded  by  St.  Fachtna  for  the 
Ithian  tribes1  of  Corca  Laidhi  [Cor-ka-lee]  in  South-west 
Munster.  Ross  is  frequently  referred  to  in  the  Annals  up  to 
the  tenth  century.  There  is  extant  an  interesting  geo- 
graphical poem  in  Irish,  of  136  lines,  written  by  one  of  the 
teachers  there  in  the  tenth  century,  and  apparently  intended 
as  a  kind  of  simple  text  to  be  learned  by  heart  by  the  students.2 
Ross  was  plundered  by  the  Danes  in  840,  but  appears  to  have 
been  flourishing  until  North-west  Munster  was  laid  waste  by 
the  Anglo-Normans  under  FitzStephen,  after  which  no  more  is 
heard  of  its  schools  or  colleges. 

Innisfallen  was  founded  upon  an  exquisite  site  on  the  lower 
lake  of  Killarney  by  St.  Finan.3  The  well-known  "  Annals 
of  Innisfallen,"  preserved  in  the  Bodleian  Library,  were 
probably  written  by  Maelsuthain  [Calvus  Perennis]  O'Carroll, 
the  "soul-friend"  of  Brian  Boru,  who  inserted  the  famous 
entry  in  the  Book  of  Armagh.4  It  is  probable  that  Brian 
himself  was  also  educated  there.  This  monastery,  owing  to 
its  secure  retreat  in  the  Kerry  mountains,  appears  to  have 
remained  unplundered  by  the  Norsemen,  and  to  have  been 
accounted  "  a  paradise  and  a  secure  sanctuary." 

Iniscaltra  is  a  beautiful  island  in  the  south-west  angle  of 
Loch  Derg,  between  Galway  and  Clare,  still  famous  for  its 
splendid  round  tower.  It  was  here  Columba  of  Terryglass, 
who  died  in  552,  established  a  school  and  monastery  which 
became  so  famous  that  in  the  life  of  St.  Senan  seven  ships  are 
mentioned  as  arriving  at  the  mouth  of  the  Shannon  crowded  with 
students  for  Iniscaltra.  It  was  this  Columba  who,  when  asked 
by  one  of  his  disciples  why  the  birds  that  frequented  the  island 
'•ere  not  afraid  of  him,  made  the  somewhat  dramatic  answer, 

1  Sec  p.  67.  2  See  "  Proceedings  of  R.  I.  Academy  for  1884." 

3  Whose  name  is  preserved  in  O'Connell's  residence,  "Derrynane," 
which  is  really  "  Derry-finan  "  (Doire-Fhionain),  •*  See  p.  140  and  141  not§ 


214      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

"  Why  should  they  fear  me  ?  am  I  not  a  bird  myself,  for  my 
soul  always  flies  to  heaven  as  they  fly  through  the  sky." 
Columba  had  a  celebrated  successor  called  Caimin,  who  died  in 
653.  Ussher,  who  calls  him  St.  Caminus,  tells  us  that  part  of 
his  Psalter  was  extant  in  his  own  time,  and  that  he  had  himself 
seen  it  "  having  a  collation  of  the  Hebrew  text  placed  on  the 
upper  part  of  each  page,  and  with  brief  scholia  added  on  the 
exterior  margin."  x 

A  great  number  of  lesser  monastic  institutions  and  schools 
seem  to  have  existed  alongside  of  these  more  famous  ones,  and 
it  is  hardly  too  much  to  say  that  during  the  sixth,  seventh, 
eighth,  and  perhaps  ninth  centuries  Ireland  had  caught  and 
held  aloft  the  torch  of  learning  in  the  lampadia  of  mankind, 
and  procured  for  herself  the  honourable  title  of  the  island  of 
saints  and  scholars. 

1  "  Habebatur  psalterium,  cujus  unicum  tantum  quaternionem  mihi 
videre  contigit,  obelis  et  asteriscis  diligentissime  distinctum  ;  collatione 
cum  veritate  Hebraica  in  superiore  parte  cujusque  paginae  posita,  et 
brevibus  scholiis  ad  exteriorem  marginem  adjectis."  (See  "  Works,"  vol. 
vi.  p.  544.  Quoted  by  Professor  G.  Stokes,  "Proceedings  R.  I.  Academy," 
May,  1892.) 


CHAPTER  XVII 

THEIR    FAME    AND    TEACHING 

IT  is  very  difficult  to  say  what  was  exactly  the  curriculum  of 
the  early  Irish  colleges,  and  how  far  they  were  patronised  by 
laymen.       Without  doubt  their  original  design  was  to  pro-  \ 
pagate  a  more  perfect    knowledge   of  the  Scriptures    and   of    \ 
theological  learning  in  general,  but  it  is  equally  certain  that 
they  must  have,  almost  from  the  very  first,  taught  the  heathen    / 
classics  and  the  Irish  language  side  by  side  with  the  Scriptures  / 
and  theology.     There  is  no  other  possible  way  of  accounting 
for  the  admirable  scholarship  of  the  men  whom  they  turned 
out,  and  for  their  skill  in  Latin  and  often  also  in  Irish  poetry.  ^ 
Virgil,  Ovid,  Terence,  and  most  of  the  Latin  poets  must  have 
been    widely   taught   and    read.     "  It   is  sufficient,"  says   M. 
d'Arbois  de  Jubainville,  talking  of  Columbanus  who  was  born 
in  543,  and  who  was  educated  at   Bangor,  on  Belfast  Loch, 
"  to   glance   at   his   writings,    immediately    to    recognise   his 
marvellous  superiority  over  Gregory  of  Tours  and  the  Gallo- 
Romans  of  his  time.     He  lived   in  close  converse  with  the 
classical  authors,  as  later  on  did  the  learned  men  of  the  sixteenth 
century,  whose  equal  he  certainly  is  not,  but  of  whom  he 
seems  a  sort  of  precursor."     From  the  sixth  to  the  sixteenth 
century  is  a  long  leap,  and  no  higher  eulogium  could  be  passed 

215 


2i 6      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

upon  the  scholarship  of  Columbanus  and  the  training  given  by 
his  Irish  college.1  All  the  studies  of  the  time  appear  to  have 
been  taught  in  them  through  the  medium  of  the  Irish  language, 
not  merely  theology  but  arithmetic,  rhetoric,  poetry,  hagio- 
graphy,  natural  science  as  then  understood,  grammar,  chron- 
ology, astronomy,  Greek,  and  even  Hebrew. 

"The  classic  tradition,"  sums  up  M.  Darmesteter,  "to  all  appear- 
ances dead  in  Europe,  burst  out  into  full  flower  in  the  Isle  of  Saints, 
\  and  the  Renaissance  began  in  Ireland  700  years  before  it  was  known 

"*  in   Italy.     During  three   centuries  Ireland  was  the  asylum  of  the 

higher  learning  which  took  sanctuary  there  from  the  uncultured 
states  of  Europe.  At  one  time  Armagh,  the  religious  capital  of 
Christian  Ireland,  was  the  metropolis  of  civilisation." 

1  Here  are  a  few  lines  from  the  well-known  Adonic  poem  which  he,  at 
the  age  of  68,  addressed  to  his  friend  Fedolius — 

"  Extitit  ingens  Impia  quippe 

Causa  malorum  Pygmalionis 

Aurea  pellis,  Regis  ob  aurum 

Corruit  auri  Gesta  leguntur. 
Munere  parvo 
Ccena  Deorum. 

Ac  tribus  illis  Fcemina  soepe 

Maxima  Us  est  Perdit  ob  aurum 

Orta  Deabus.  Casta  pudorem. 

Hinc  populavit  Non  Jovis  aun 

Trogugenarum  Fluxit  in  inibre, 

Ditia  regna  Sed  quod  adulter 

Dorica  pubes.  Obtulit  aurum 

Juraque  legum  Aureus  ille 

Fasque  fides  que  Fingitur  imber." 
Rumpitur  aure. 

Dr.  Sigerson  in  "  Bards  of  the  Gael  and  Gaul,"  p.  407,  prints  as  Jubain- 
ville  also  does,  the  whole  of  this  noted  poem,  and  points  out  that  it  is  shot 
through  and  through  with  Irish  assonance.  "  Not  less  important  than  its 
assonance,"  writes  Dr.  Sigerson,  "  is  the  fact  that  it  introduces  into  Latin 
verse  the  use  of  returning  words,  or  burthens  with  variations,  which 
supply  the  vital  germs  of  the  rondeau  and  the  ballad."  I  am  not  myself 
convinced  of  what  Dr.  Sigerson  considers  marks  of  intentional  assonance 
in  almost  every  line. 

His  chief  remaining  works  are  a  Monastic  Rule  in  ten  chapters  ;  a  book 
on  the  daily  penances  of  the  monks  ;  seventeen  sermons  ;  a  book  on  the 
measure  of  penances  ;  a  treatise  on  the  eight  principal  vices ;  five 
epistles  written  to  Gregory  the  Great  and  others  ;  and  a  good  many  Latin 
verses.  His  life  is  written  by  the  Abbot  Jonas,  a  contemporary  of 
his  own, 


THEIR  FAME  AND    TEACHING          217 

"  Ireland,"  says  Babington  in  his  "  Fallacies  of  Race  Theories,"  * 
"  had  been  admitted  into  Christendom  and  to  some  measure  of 
culture  only  in  the  fifth  century.  At  that  time  Gaul  and  Italy 
enjoyed  to  the  full  all  the  knowledge  of  the  age.  In  the  next 
century  the  old  culture-lands  had  to  turn  for  some  little  light  and 
teaching  to  that  remote  and  lately  barbarous  land." 

When  we  remember  that  the  darkness  of  the  Middle  Ages 
had  already  set  in  over  the  struggles,  agony,  and  confusion  of 
feudal  Europe,  and  that  all  knowledge  of  Greek  may  be  said 
to  have  died  out  upon  the  Continent — "  had  elsewhere  absolutely 
vanished,"  says  M.  Darmesteter — when  we  remember  that 
even  such  a  man  as  Gregory  the  Great  was  completely  ignorant 
of  it,  it  will  appear  extraordinary  to  find  it  taught  in  Ireland 
alone,  out  of  all  the  countries  of  Western  Europe.2  Yet  this 
is  capable  of  complete  and  manifold  proof.  Columbanus  for 
instance,  shows  in  his  letter  to  Pope  Boniface  that  he  knows 
something  of  both  Greek  and  Hebrew.3  Aileran,  who  died  of 
the  plague  in  664,  gives  evidence  of  the  same  in  his  book  on 
our  Lord's  genealogy.  Cummian's  letter  to  the  Abbot  of 
lona  has  been  referred  to  before,  and,  as  Professor  G.  Stokes  puts 
it,  "proves  the  fact  to  demonstration  that  in  the  first  half  of 
the  seventh  century  there  was  a  wide  range  of  Greek  learning, 
not  ecclesiastical  merely,  but  chronological,  astronomical,  and 
philosophical,  away  at  Durrow  in  the  very  centre  of  the  Bog 
of  Allen."  Augustine,  an  un-identified  Irish  monk  of  the 
second  half  of  the  seventh  century,  gives  many  proofs  of  Greek 
and  Oriental  learning  and  quotes  the  Chronicles  of  Eusebius. 
The  later  Sedulius,  the  versatile  abbot  of  Kildare,  about  the 
year  820  "  makes  parade  of  his  Greek  knowledge,"  to  quote  a 

Jmch  writer  in  the  "  Revue  Celtique,"  "  employs  Greek  words 
P.  122. 
"  Grossere  oder  geringere  Kenntniss  klassischen  Alterthums,  vor  allem 
mtniss  des  Griechischen  ist  daher  in  jener  Zeit  ein  Mazstab  sowohl  fur 
Bildung  einer  einzelnen  Personlichkeit  als  auch  fur  den  Culturgrad  eines 
.zen  Zeitalters  "  (Zimmer,  "  Preussische  Jahrbucher,"  January,  1887). 
He  plays  on  his  own  name  Columba,  "  3  dove,"  and  turns  it  into  Greek 
\  Hebrew,  irepurrepct  and  j-jj-p 


218      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

without  necessity,  and  translates  into  Greek  a  part  of  the 
definition  of  the  pronoun."  z  St.  Caimins's  Psalter,  seen  by 
Bishop  Ussher  with  the  Hebrew  text  collated,  convinced  Dr. 
Reeves  that  Hebrew  as  well  as  Greek  was  studied  in  Ireland 
about  the  year  600.  Nor  did  this  Greek  learning  tend  to  die 
out.  In  the  middle  of  the  ninth  century  John  Scotus 
Erigena,  summoned  from  Ireland  to  France  by  Charles  the 
Bald,  was  the  only  person  to  be  found  able  to  translate  the 
Greek  works  of  the  pseudo-Dionysius,2  thanks  to  the  training 
he  had  received  in  his  Irish  school.  The  Book  of  Armagh 
contains  the  Lord's  Prayer  written  in  Greek  letters,  and  there 
is  a  Greek  MS.  of  the  Psalter,  written  in  Sedulius'  own  hand, 
now  preserved  in  Paris.  Many  more  Greek  texts,  at  least  a 
dozen,  written  by  Irish  monks,  are  preserved  elsewhere  in 
Europe.  "These  eighth  and  ninth  century  Greek  MSS.," 
remarks  Professor  Stokes,  "  covered  with  Irish  glosses  and  Irish 
poems  and  Irish  notes,  have  engaged  the  attention  of  palaeo- 
graphers and  students  of  the  Greek  texts  of  the  New  Testament 
during  the  last  two  centuries."  They  are  indeed  a  proof 
that — as  Dr.  Reeves  puts  it — the  Irish  School  "  was  unques- 
tionably the  most  advanced  of  its  day  in  sacred  literature." 

This  remarkable  knowledge  of  Greek  was  evidently  derived 
from  an  early  and  direct  commerce  with  Gaul,  where  Greek 
had  been  spoken  for  four  or  five  centuries,  first  alongside  of 
Celtic,  and  in  later  times  of  Latin  also.3  The  knowledge 

1  Dr.  Sigerson  prints  an  admirably  graceful  poem  either  by  this  or 
another  Sedulius  of  the  ninth  century  at  p.  411  of  his  "Bards  of  the  Gael 
and  Gaul."     It  shows  how  far  from  being  pedants  the  Irish  monks  were. 
This  poem  is  a  dispute  between  the  rose  and  lily. 

2  This  translation  which  Charles  sent  to  the  Pope  threw  Anastasius,  the 
Librarian  of  the  Roman  Church,  into  the  deepest  astonishment.    "  Mir- 
andum  est,"  he  writes  in  his  letter  of  reply,  dated  865,  "  quomodo  vir  ille 
barbarus  in  finibus  mundi  positus,  talia  intellectu  capere  in  aliamque 
linguam  transferre  valuerit"  (Sec  Prof.   Stokes,   "  R.  I.   Academy  Pro- 
ceedings," May,  1892). 

3  St.  Jerome  tells  us  that  the  people  of  Marseilles  were  in  his  day  trilin- 
gual, "  Massiliam  Phocsei  condiderunt  quos  ait  Varro  trilingues  esse,  quod 
et  Graece  loquantur,  et  Latine  et  Gallice  "  (Migne's  edition,  vol.  vii.  p.  425). 


THEIR  FAME  AND   TEACHING          219 

of  Hebrew  may  have  been  derived  from  the  Egyptian  monks 
who  passed  over  from  Gaul  into  Ireland.  Egypt  and  the  East 
were  more  or  less  in  close  communication  with  Gaul  in  the 
fifth  century,  and  the  Irish  Litany,  ascribed  to  Angus  the 
Culdee,  commemorates  seven  Egyptian  monks  amongst  many 
other  Gauls,  Germans,  and  Italians  who  resided  in  Ireland. 
The  close  and  constant  intercommunication  between  Greek- 
speaking  Gaul  and  Ireland  accounts  for  the  planting  and  culti- 
vation of  the  Greek  language  in  the  Irish  schools,  and  once 
planted  there  it  continued  to  flourish  more  or  less  for  some 
centuries.  There  is  ample  evidence  to  prove  the  connection 
between  Gaul  and  Ireland  from  the  fifth  to  the  ninth  century. 
We  find  Gaulish  merchants  in  the  middle  of  Ireland  at 
Clonmacnois,  who  had  no  doubt  sailed  up  the  Shannon  in  the 
way  of  commerce,  selling  wine  to  Ciaran  in  the  sixth  century. 
We  find  Columbanus,  a  little  later  on,  inquiring  at  Nantes  for 
a  vessel  engaged  in  the  Irish  trade — qua  vexerat  commercium  cum 
Hibernia.  In  Adamnan's  Life  of  Columcille  we  find 
mention  of  Gaulish  sailors  arriving  at  Cantire.  Adamnan's 
own  treatise  on  Holy  Places  was  written  from  the  verbal 
account  of  a  Gaul.  In  the  Old  Irish  poem  on  the  Fair 
of  Carman  in  Wexford — a  pagan  institution  which  lived  on 
in  Christian  times — we  find  mention  of  the 

"  Great  market  of  the  foreign  Greeks, 
Where  gold  and  noble  clothes  were  wont  to  be  ; "  * 

the  foreign  Greeks  being  no  doubt  the  Greek-speaking 
Gaulish  merchants.  Alcuin  sends  his  gifts  of  money  and  oil 
and  his  letters  direct  from  Charlemagne's  court  to  his  friends 
in  Clonmacnois,  probably  by  a  vessel  engaged  in  the  direct 
Irish  trade,  for,  as  he  himself  tells  us,  the  sea-route  between 
England  and  France  was  then  closed.  If  more  proof  of  the 

1  Sec  appendix  to  O'Curry's  "  Manners  and  Customs,"  vol.  iii.  p.  547— 
"  Margaid  mor  na  n-gall  ngregach 
I  mbid  or  is  ard  etach." 


220      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

close  communication  between  Ireland  and  Gaul  were  wanted, 
the  fact  that  Dagobert  II.,  king  of  France  in  the  seventh 
century,  was  educated  at  Slane,1  in  Ireland,  and  also  that 
certain  Merovingian  and  French  coins  have  been  found 
here,  should  be  sufficient. 

The  fame  of  these  early  Irish  schools  attracted  students  in 
the  seventh,  eighth,  and  ninth  centuries  from  all  quarters  to 
Ireland,  which  had  now  become  a  veritable  land  of  schools 
and  scholars.  The  Venerable  Bede  tells  us  of  the  crowds 
of  Anglo-Saxons  who  flocked  over  into  Ireland  during  the 
plague,  about  the  year  664,  and  says  that  they  were  all  warmly 
welcomed  by  the  Irish,  who  took  care  that  they  should  be 
provided  with  food  every  day,  without  payment  on  their  part ; 
that  they  should  have  books  to  read,  and  that  they  should 
receive  gratuitous  instruction  from  Irish  masters.2  Books 
must  have  already  multiplied  considerably  when  the  swarms 
of  Anglo-Saxons  could  thus  be  supplied  with  them  gratis. 
This  noble  tradition  of  free  education  to  strangers  lasted  down 
to  the  establishment  of  the  so-called  "  National "  schools  in 
Ireland,  for  down  to  that  time  "  poor  scholars "  were  freely 
supported  by  the  people  and  helped  in  their  studies.  The  num- 
ber of  scribes  whose  deaths  have  been  considered  worth 
recording  by  the  annalists  is  very  great,  and  books  consequently 
must  have  been  very  numerous.  This  plentifulness  of  books 
probably  added  to  the  renown  of  the  Irish  schools.  An  English 
prince  as  well  as  a  French  one  was  educated  by  them  in  the 
seventh  century  ;  this  was  Aldfrid,  king  of  Northumbria,  who 

1  He  is  said  to  have  spent  eighteen  or  twenty  years  there  and  to  have 
acquired  all  the  wisdom  of  the  Scots.    The  reason  why  he  was  sent  to 
Slane,  as  Dr.  Healy  well  observes,  was,  not  because  it  was  the  most  cele- 
brated school  of  the  time,  but  because  it  was  in  Meath  where  the  High- 
kings  mostly  dwelt,  and  it  was  only  natural  to  bring  the  boy  to  some  place 
near  the  Royal  Court.     ("  Ireland's  Schools  and  Scholars,"  p.  590.) 

2  "  Quos  omnes  Scotti  libentissime  suscipientes  victum  eis  quotidianum 
sine  pretio,  libros  quoque  ad  legendum,  et  magisterium  gratuitum,  prae- 
bere  curabant "  ("  Ecc.  Hist.,"  book  iii.  chap.  27).  Amongst  these  were  th$ 
celebrated  Egbert,  of  whoni  Bede  tells  us  §o  much,  and  St,  Chad, 


THEIR  FAME  AND   TEACHING         221 

was  trained  in  all  the  learning  of  Erin,  and  who  always  aided 
and  abetted  the  Irish  in  England,  in  opposition  to  Wilfrid,  who 
opposed  them.  That  the  king  got  a  good  education  in  Ireland 
may  be  conjectured  from  the  fact  that  Aldhelm,  abbot  of 
Malmesbury,  dedicated  to  him  a  poetic  epistle  on  Latin 
metric  and  prosody,  in  which,  says  Dr.  Healy,  "he  con- 
gratulates the  king  on  his  good  fortune  in  having  been  edu- 
cated in  Ireland."  Aldhelm's  own  master  was  also  an  Irishman, 
Mael-dubh,  and  his  abbacy  of  Malmesbury  is  only  a  corruption 
of  this  Irishman's  name  Maeldubh's-bury.1  In  another  place 
Aldhelm  tells  us  that  while  the  great  English  school  at  Canter- 
bury was  by  no  means  overcrowded,  the  English  swarmed  to 
the  Irish  schools  like  bees.  Aldfrid  himself,  when  leaving 
Ireland,  composed  a  poem  of  sixty  lines  in  the  Irish  language 
and  metre,  which  he  must  have  learned  from  the  bards,  in 
which  he  compliments  each  of  the  provinces  severally,  as 
though  he  meant  to  thank  the  whole  nation  for  their  hos- 
pitality.2 

"  I  found  in  Inisfail  the  fair 
In  Ireland,  while  in  exile  there, 
Women  of  worth,  both  grave  and  gay  men, 
Learned  clerics,  heroic  laymen. 

1  He  is  called  Mailduf  by  Bede,  and  Malmesbury  Maildufi  urbem,  which 
shows  that  the  aspirated  "  b  "  in  dubh  had  twelve  hundred  years  ago  the 
sound  of  "  f  "  as  it  has  to-day  in  Connacht. 

2  O'Reilly  states  that  the  poem  consisted  of  ninety-six  lines,  but  Hardi- 
man,  in  his  "  Irish  Minstrelsy,"  vol.  ii.  p.  372,  gives  only  sixty.     Hardiman 
has  written  on  the  margin  of  O'Reilly's  "  Irish  Writers  "  in  my  possession, 
"  I  have  a  copy,  the  character  is  ancient  and  very  obscure."    Aldfrid  may 
well  have  written  such  a  poem,  of  which  the  copy  printed  by  Hardiman 
may  be  a  somewhat  modernised  version.    It  begins — 

"  Ro  dheat  an  inis  finn  Fail 
In  Eirinn  re  imarbhaidh, 
lomad  ban,  ni  baoth  an  breas, 
lomad  laoch,  iomad  cleireach." 

It  was  admirably  and  fairly  literally  translated  by  Mangan  for  Montgomery. 
His  fourth  line,  however,  runs,  "  Many  clerics  and  many  laymen,"  which 
conveys  no  meaning  save  that  of  populousness.  I  have  altered  this  line 
to  make  it  suit  the  Irish  "  many  a  hero,  many  a  cleric." 


222      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

"  I  travelled  its  fruitful  provinces  round, 
And  in  every  one  of  the  five  I  found, 
Alike  in  church  and  in  palace  hall, 
Abundant  apparel  and  food  for  all." 

St.  Willibrord,  a  Saxon  noble  educated  in  Ireland  about 
the  same  time  with  King  Aldfrid,  went  out  thence  and 
ultimately  became  Archbishop  of  Utrecht.  Another  noted 
scholar  of  the  same  period  was  Agilbert,  a  Frank  by  birth, 
who  spent  a  long  time  in  Ireland  for  the  purpose  of  study  and 
afterwards  became  Bishop  of  Paris.1  We  have  seen  how  the 
Office  of  St.  Cathaldus  states  that  the  school  of  Lismore  was 
visited  by  Gauls,  Angles,  Scotti,  Teutons,  and  scholars  from 
other  neighbouring  nations.  The  same  was  more  or  less  the 
case  with  Clonmacnois,  Bangor,  and  some  others  of  the  most 
noted  of  the  Irish  schools. 

It  was  not  in  Greek  attainments,  nor  in  ecclesiastical  studies, 
nor  in  Latin  verses  alone,  that  the  Irish  excelled  ;  they  also 
produced  astronomers  like  Dungal  and  geographers  like 
Dicuil.  Dungal's  attainments  we  have  glanced  at,  but 
Dicuil's  book — de  mensura  orbis  terrarum — written  about  the 
year  825,  is  more  interesting,  although  nothing  is  known  about 
the  author's  own  life,  nor  do  we  know  even  the  particular 
Irish  school  to  which  he  belonged.2  His  book  was  published 
by  a  Frenchman  because  he  found  Dicuil's  descriptions  of  the 
measurements  of  the  Pyramids  a  thousand  years  ago  tallied 
with  his  own. 

"  Antioch,"  writes  Professor  G.  Stokes,  "  about  A.D.  600,  was  the 
centre  of  Greek  culture  and  Greek  erudition,  and  the  chronicle  of 
Malalas,  as  embodied  in  Niebuhr's  series  of  Byzantine  historians, 
is  a  mine  of  information  on  many  questions ;  but  compare  it  with 
the  Irish  work  of  Dicuil  and  its  mistakes  are  laughable." 

1  "  Natione  quidem  Gallus,"  says  Bede,  "  sed  tune  legendarum  gratia 
scripturarum  in  Hibernia  non  parvo  tempore  demoratus." 

2  Probably  Clonmacnois.    See  Stokes,  "  Celtic  Church,"  p.  214,  and  Dr. 
Healy's  "  Ireland's  Schools  and  Scholars,"  p.  283. 


THEIR  FAME  AND    TEACHING          223 

A  great  deal  of  his  work  is  founded  of  course  upon  Pliny, 
Solinus,  and  Priscian,  but  he  shows  a  highly-developed  critical 
sense  in  comparing  and  collating  various  MSS.  which  he  had 
inspected  to  ensure  accuracy.  What  he  tells  us  at  first-hand, 
however,  is  by  far  the  most  interesting.  In  speaking  of  the 
Nile  he  says  that  : — 

"  Although  we  never  read  in  any  book  that  any  branch  of  the  Nile 
flows  into  the  Red  Sea,  yet  Brother  Fidelis  told  in  my  presence  to 
my  master  Suibhne  [Sweeny] — to  whom  under  God  I  owe  whatever 
knowledge  I  possess — that  certain  clerics  and  laymen  from  Ireland 
who  went  to  Jerusalem  on  pilgrimage  sailed  up  the  Nile  a  long  way." 

They  sailed  thence  by  a  canal  into  the  Red  Sea,  and  this  state- 
ment proves  the  accuracy  of  Dicuil,  for  this  canal  really  existed 
and  continued  in  use  until  767,  when  it  was  closed  to  hinder 
the  people  of  Mecca  and  Medina  getting  supplies  from  Egypt. 
The  account  of  the  Pyramids  is  particularly  interesting. 
"The  aforesaid  Brother  Fidelis  measured  one  of  them  and 
found  that  the  square  face  was  400  feet  in  length."  The 
same  brother  wished  to  examine  the  exact  point  where  Moses 
had  entered  the  Red  Sea  in  order  to  try  if  he  could  find  any 
traces  of  the  chariots  of  Pharaoh  or  the  wheel  tracks,  but  the 
sailors  were  in  a  hurry  and  would  not  allow  him  to  go  on  this 
excursion.  The  breadth  of  the  sea  appeared  to  him  at  this 
point  to  be  about  six  miles.  Dicuil  describes  Iceland  long 
before  it  was  discovered  by  the  Danes. 

"  It  is  now  thirty  years,"  said  he,  writing  in  825,  "  since  I  was  told 
by  some  Irish  ecclesiastics,  who  had  dwelt  in  that  island  from  the 
ist  of  February  to  the  ist  of  August,  that  the  sun  scarcely  sets 
there  in  summer,  but  always  leaves,  even  at  midnight,  light  enough 
to  do  one's  ordinary  business — vel  pediculos  de  camisia  abstrahere  "  ! 

Those  writers  are  greatly  mistaken,  he  says,  who  describe  the 
Icelandic  sea  as  always  frozen,  and  who  say  that  there  is  day 
there  from  spring  to  autumn  and  from  autumn  to  spring,  for 
the  Irish  monks  sailed  thither  through  the  open  sea  in  a  month 


224     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

of  great  natural  cold,  and  yet  found  alternate  day  and  night, 
except  about  the  period  of  the  summer  solstice.  He  also 
describes  the  Faroe  Isles  : — 

"  A  certain  trustworthy  monk  told  me  that  he  reached  one  of  them 
by  sailing  for  two  summer  days  and  one  night  in  a  vessel  with  two 
benches  of  rowers.  ...  In  these  islands  for  almost  a  hundred 
years  there  dwelt  hermits  who  sailed  there  from  our  own  Ireland 
[nostra  Scottia],  but  now  they  are  once  more  deserted  as  they  were 
at  the  beginning,  on  account  of  the  ravages  of  the  Norman  pirates." 

This  is  proof  positive  that  the  Irish  discovered  and  inhabited 
Iceland  and  the  Faroe  Islands  half  a  century  or  a  century 
before  the  Northmen.  Dicuil  was  distinguished  as  a  gram- 
marian, metrician,  and  astronomer,1  but  his  geographical  treatise, 
written  in  his  old  age,  is  the  most  interesting  and  valuable  of 
his  achievements. 

Fergil,  or  Virgilius,  as  he  is  usually  called,  was  another  great 
Irish  geometer,  who  eventually  became  Archbishop  of  Salzburg 
and  died  in  785.  He  taught  the  sphericity  of  the  earth  and 
the  doctrine  of  the  Antipodes,  a  truth  which  seems  also  to  have 
been  familiar  to  Dicuil.  St.  Boniface,  afterwards  Archbishop 
of  Mentz,  evidently  distorting  his  doctrine,  accused  him  to  the 
Pope  of  heresy  in  teaching  that  there  was  another  world  and 
other  men  under  the  earth,  and  another  sun  and  moon. 
"  Concerning  this  charge  of  false  doctrine,  if  it  shall  be 
established,"  said  the  Pope,  "  that  Virgil-  taught  this  per- 
verse and  wicked  doctrine  against  God  and  his  own  soul, 
do  you  then  convoke  a  council,  degrade  him  from  the  priest- 
hood, and  drive  him  from  the  Church."  Virgil,  however, 
seems  to  have  satisfactorily  explained  his  position,  for  nothing 
'was  done  against  him. 

These  instances  help  to  throw  some  light  upon  a  most 
difficult  subject — the  training  given  in  the  early  Irish  Christian 
schools,  and  the  cause  of  their  undoubted  popularity  for  three 
centuries  and  more  amongst  the  scholars  of  Western  Europe. 

*  His  astronomical  work,  written  in  814-16,  remains  as  yet  unpublished. 


CHAPTER   XVIII 

CONFLICTS    WITH    THE    CIVIL    POWER 

THE  extraordinary  and  abnormal  receptivity  of  the  Irish  of 
the  fifth  century,  and  the  still  more  wonderful  and  unprece- 
dented activity  of  their  descendants  in  the  sixth  and  following 
ones  had  almost  bid  fair  to  turn  the  nation  into  a  land  of 
apostles.  This  outburst  of  religious  zeal,  glorious  and  en- 
during as  it  was,  carried  with  it,  like  all  sudden  and  powerful 
movements,  an  element  of  danger.  It  was  unfortunately 
destined  in  its  headlong  course  to  overflow  its  legitimate 
barriers  and  to  come  into  rude  contact  with  the  civil  power 
which  had  been  established  upon  lines  more  ancient  and  not 
wholly  sympathetic. 

A  striking  passage  in  one  of  Renan's  books  dwells  upon  the 
obvious  religious  inferiority  of  the  Greeks  and  Romans  to  the 
Jews,  while  it  notes  at  the  same  time  their  immense  political 
and  intellectual  superiority  over  the  Semitic  nation.  The 
inferiority  of  the  Jew  in  matters  political  and  intellectual  the 
French  writer  seems  inclined  to  attribute  to  his  abnormally 
developed  religious  sense,  which,  absorbed  in  itself,  took  all  too 
little  heed  of  the  civic  side  of  life  and  of  the  necessities  of  the 
state.  Nor  can  it,  I  think,  be  denied  that  primitive  Chris- 
tianity in  some  cases  took  over  from  the  Hebrews  a  certain 

P  225 


226      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

amount  of  this  spirit  of  self-absorption  and  of  disregard  for  the 
civil  side  of  life  and  social  polity.  "Quand  on  prend  les  choses 
humaines  par  ce  c6te,"  remarks  Renan,  "  on  fonde  de  grands 
proselytismes  universels,  on  a  des  apotres  courant  le  monde 
d'un  bout  a  1'autre,  et  le  convertissant ;  mais  on  ne  fonde  pas 
des  institutions  politiques,  une  independance  nationale,  une 
dynastic,  un  code,  un  peuple." 

We  have  already  seen  how  the  exaggerated  pretensions  of 
St.  Columcille  had  come  almost  at  once  into  opposition  with 
the  established  law  of  the  land,  the  law  which  enjoined  death 
as  the  penalty  for  homicide  at  Tara,  and  how  the  priest 
unjustifiably  took  upon  himself  to  override  the  civil  magistrate 
in  the  person  of  the  king. 

Of  precisely  such  a  nature — only  with  far  worse  and  far 
more  enduring  consequences — was  the  cursing  of  Tara  by  St. 
Ruadhan  of  Lothra.  The  great  palace  where,  according  to 
general  belief,  a  hundred  and  thirty-six  pagan  and  six  Christian 
kings  had  ruled  uninterruptedly,  the  most  august  spot  in  all 
Ireland,  where  a  "  truce  of  God  "  had  always  reigned  during 
the  great  triennial  assemblies,  was  now  to  be  given  up  and 
.deserted  at  the  curse  of  a  tonsured  monk.  The  great 
Assembly  or  F£is  of  Tara,  which  accustomed  the  people  to 
the  idea  of  a  centre  of  government  and  a  ruling  power, 
could  no  more  be  convened,  and  a  thousand  associations  and 
memories  which  hallowed  the  office  of  the  High-king  were 
vsnapped  in  a  moment.  It  was  a  blow  from  which  the 
monarchy  of  Ireland  never  recovered,  a  blow  which,  by 
putting  an  end  to  the  great  triennial  or  septennial  conven- 
tions of  the  whole  Irish  race,  weakened  the  prestige  of  the 
central  ruler,  increased  the  power  of  the  provincial  chieftains, 
segregated  the  clans  of  Ireland  from  one  another,  and  opened 
a  new  road  for  faction  and  dissension  throughout  the  entire 
island. 

There  is  a  considerable  amount  of  mystery  attached  to  this 
whole  transaction,  and  all  the  great  Irish  annalists,  the  "  Four 


CONFLICTS    WITH   THE   CIVIL  POWER     229 

"  When  King  Diarmuid  heard  of  the  killing  he  sent  his  young  men 
and  his  executive  to  waste  and  to  spoil  Aedh  Guaire.  And  he  flees  to 
Bishop  Senan,  for  one  mother  they  had  both,  and  Senan  the  bishop 
goes  with  him  to  Ruadhan  of  Lothra,  for  it  was  two  sisters  of 
Lothra  that  nursed  Bishop  Senan,  Gael  and  Ruadhnait  were  their 
names.  But  Aedh  Guaire  found  no  protection  with  Ruadhan,  but 
was  banished  away  into  Britain  for  a  year,  and  Diarmuid's  people 
came  to  seek  for  him  in  Britain,  so  he  was  again  sent  back  to 
Ruadhan.  And  Diarmuid  himself  comes  to  Ruadhan  to  look  for 
him,  but  he  had  been  put  into  a  hole  in  the  ground  by  Ruadhan, 
which  is  to-day  called  'Ruadhan's  Hole.'  Diarmuid  sent  his  man 
to  look  in  Ruadhan's  kitchen  whether  Aedh  Guiare  were  there.  But 
on  the  man's  going  into  the  kitchen  his  eyes  were  at  once  struck 
blind.  When  Diarmuid  saw  this,  he  went  into  the  kitchen  himself, 
but  he  did  not  find  Aedh  Guiare  there.  And  he  asked  Ruadhan 
where  he  was,  for  he  was  sure  he  would  tell  him  no  lie. 

"  '  I  know  not  where  he  is/  said  Ruadhan,  '  if  he  be  not  under 
yon  thatch.' 

"After  that  Diarmuid  departs  to  his  house,  but  he  remembered 
the  cleric's  word  and  returns  to  the  recluse's  cell,  and  he  sees  the 
candle  being  brought  to  the  spot  where  Aedh  Guaire  was.  And  he 
sends  a  confidential  servant  to  bring  him  forth — Donnan  Donn  was 
his  name — and  he  dug  down  in  the  hiding  place,  but  the  arm  he 
stretched  out  to  take  Aedh  withered  to  the  shoulder.  And  he 
makes  obeisance  to  Ruadhan  after  that,  and  the  two  servants 
remained  with  Ruadhan  after  that  in  Poll  Ruadhain.  After  this 
Diarmuid  [himself]  carries  off  Aedh  Guaire  to  Tara." 

Upon  this,  we  are  told,  Ruadhan  made  his  way  to  Brendan 
of  Birr,  and  thence  to  the  so-called  twelve  apostles  of  Ireland,1 
and  they  all  followed  the  King  and  came  to  Tara,  and  they 
fast  upon  the  King  that  night,  and  he,  "  relying  on  his  kingly 
quality  and  on  the  justice  of  his  cause,  fasts  upon  them."  2 

"  In  such  fashion,  and  to  the  end  of  a  year  they  continued  before 
Tara  under  Ruadhan's  tent  exposed  to  weather  and  to  wet,  and  they 
were  every  other  night  without  food,  Diarmuid  and  the  clergy,  fast- 
ing on  each  other." 

After  this  the  story  goes  on  that  Brendan  the  Navigator  had 
in  the  meantime  landed  from  his  foreign  expeditions,  and 

1  See  above,  p.  196. 

*  "  A  niurt  a  fhlatha  ocus  a  fhirinne," 


228     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

story-teller,    is  never  easily  determined.     The  story    runs  as 
follows  : — 

King  Diarmuid's  steward  and  spear-bearer  had  been  ill  and 
wasting  away  for  a  year.  On  his  recovery  he  goes  to  the 
King,  and  asks  him  whether  "  the  order  of  his  discipline  and 
peace  "  had  been  observed  during  the  time  of  his  illness.  The 
King  answered  that  he  had  noticed  no  breach  or  diminution 
of  it.  The  spear-bearer  said  he  would  make  sure  of  the 
King's  peace  by  travelling  round  Ireland  with  his  spear  held 
transversely,  and  he  would  see  whether  the  door  of  every  liss 
and  fortress  would  be  opened  wide  enough  to  let  the  spear 
pass — such  on  the  approach  of  the  King's  spear  seems  to  have 
been  the  law — and  "so  shall  the  regimen  and  peace  of 
Ireland,"  said  he  "  be  ascertained." 

"  From  Tara,  therefore,  goes  forth  the  spear-bearer,1  and  with 
him  the  King  of  Ireland's  herald,  to  proclaim  Ireland's  peace,  and 
he  arrived  in  the  province  of  Connacht,  and  made  his  way  to  the 
mansion  of  Aedh  [^E]  Guaire  of  Kinelfechin.  And  he  at  that  time 
had  round  his  rath  a  stockade  of  red  oak,  and  had  a  new  house  too, 
that  was  but  just  built  [no  doubt  inside  the  rath]  with  a  view  to  his 
marriage  feast.  Now,  a  week  before  the  spear-bearer's  arrival  the 
other  had  heard  that  he  was  on  his  way  to  him,  and  had  given  orders 
to  make  an  opening  before  him  in  the  palisade  [but  not  in  the 
dwelling] . 

"  The  spear-bearer  came  accordingly,  and  Aedh  Guaire  bade  him 
welcome.  The  spear-bearer  said  that  the  house  must  be  hewn 
[open  to  the  right  width]  before  him. 

" '  Give  thine  own  orders  as  to  how  it  may  please  thee  to  have  it 
hewn/  said  Aedh  Guaire,  but,  even  as  he  spake  it,  he  gave  a  stroke 
of  his  sword  to  the  spear-bearer,  so  that  he  took  his  head  from  off 
him. 

"  Now  at  this  time  the  discipline  of  Ireland  was  such  that  who- 
soever killed  a  man  void  of  offence,  neither  cattle  nor  other  valu- 
able consideration  might  be  taken  in  lieu  of  the  slain,  but  the  slayer 
must  be  killed,  unless  it  were  that  the  King  should  order  or  permit 
the  acceptance  of  a  cattle-price. 


1  He  is  called  Aedh  Baclamh  here,  "  Bacc  Lonim  "  in  the  "  Life."  Bac- 
lamh  apparently  indicates  some  office.  I  have  here  called  him  only  the 
spear-bearer. 


CONFLICTS    WITH   THE   CIVIL  POWER     229 

"  When  King  Diarmuid  heard  of  the  killing  he  sent  his  young  men 
and  his  executive  to  waste  and  to  spoil  Aedh  Guaire.  And  he  flees  to 
Bishop  Senan,  for  one  mother  they  had  both,  and  Senan  the  bishop 
goes  with  him  to  Ruadhan  of  Lothra,  for  it  was  two  sisters  of 
Lothra  that  nursed  Bishop  Senan,  Cael  and  Ruadhnait  were  their 
names.  But  Aedh  Guaire  found  no  protection  with  Ruadhan,  but 
was  banished  away  into  Britain  for  a  year,  and  Diarmuid's  people 
came  to  seek  for  him  in  Britain,  so  he  was  again  sent  back  to 
Ruadhan.  And  Diarmuid  himself  comes  to  Ruadhan  to  look  for 
him,  but  he  had  been  put  into  a  hole  in  the  ground  by  Ruadhan, 
which  is  to-day  called  'Ruadhan's  Hole/  Diarmuid  sent  his  man 
to  look  in  Ruadhan's  kitchen  whether  Aedh  Guiare  were  there.  But 
on  the  man's  going  into  the  kitchen  his  eyes  were  at  once  struck 
blind.  When  Diarmuid  saw  this,  he  went  into  the  kitchen  himself, 
but  he  did  not  find  Aedh  Guiare  there.  And  he  asked  Ruadhan 
where  he  was,  for  he  was  sure  he  would  tell  him  no  lie. 

"  '  I  know  not  where  he  is,'  said  Ruadhan,  '  if  he  be  not  under 
yon  thatch.' 

"After  that  Diarmuid  departs  to  his  house,  but  he  remembered 
the  cleric's  word  and  returns  to  the  recluse's  cell,  and  he  sees  the 
candle  being  brought  to  the  spot  where  Aedh  Guaire  was.  And  he 
sends  a  confidential  servant  to  bring  him  forth — Donnan  Donn  was 
his  name — and  he  dug  down  in  the  hiding  place,  but  the  arm  he 
stretched  out  to  take  Aedh  withered  to  the  shoulder.  And  he 
makes  obeisance  to  Ruadhan  after  that,  and  the  two  servants 
remained  with  Ruadhan  after  that  in  Poll  Ruadhain.  After  this 
Diarmuid  [himself]  carries  off  Aedh  Guaire  to  Tara." 

Upon  this,  we  are  told,  Ruadhan  made  his  way  to  Brendan 
of  Birr,  and  thence  to  the  so-called  twelve  apostles  of  Ireland,1 
and  they  all  followed  the  King  and  came  to  Tara,  and  they 
fast  upon  the  King  that  night,  and  he,  "  relying  on  his  kingly 
quality  and  on  the  justice  of  his  cause,  fasts  upon  them."  2 

"  In  such  fashion,  and  to  the  end  of  a  year  they  continued  before 
Tara  under  Ruadhan's  tent  exposed  to  weather  and  to  wet,  and  they 
were  every  other  night  without  food,  Diarmuid  and  the  clergy,  fast- 
ing on  each  other." 

After  this  the  story  goes  on  that  Brendan  the  Navigator  had 
in  the  meantime  landed  from  his  foreign  expeditions,  and 

1  See  above,  p.  196. 

3  "A  niurt  a  fhlatha  ocus  3  fhfrinne." 


230     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

hearing  that  the  other  saints  of  Ireland  were  fasting  before 
Tara,  he  also  proceeds  thither.  But  King  Diarmuid,  learning 
of  his  coming,  was  terrified,  and  consented  to  give  up  Aedh 
Guaire  for  "fifty  horses,  blue-eyed  with  golden  bridles." 
Brendan  the  Voyager,  fresh  from  his  triumphs  on  the  ocean, 
summons  fifty  seals  and  makes  them  look  like  horses,  and 
guaranteeing  them  for  a  year  and  a  quarter,  hands  them  over 
to  the  King  and  receives  Aedh  Guaire.  But  when  the  time 
guaranteed  was  out,  they  became  seals  again,  and  brought  their 
riders  with  them  into  the  sea.  And  Diarmuid  was  very  wroth 
at  the  deception,  "  and  shut  the  seven  lisses  of  Tara  to  the  end 
that  the  clergy  should  not  enter  into  Tara,  lest  they  should 
leave  behind  malevolence  and  evil  bequests." 

It  appears  that  the  clerics  still  continued  fasting  upon  the 
King,  and  he  fasting  upon  them, 

"  And  people  were  assigned  [by  the  King]  to  wait  upon  them  and 
to  keep  watch  and  ward  over  them  until  the  clergy  should  have  accom- 
plished the  act  of  eating  and  consuming  food  in  their  presence.  But 
on  this  night  Brendan  gave  them  this  advice — their  cowls  to  be  about 
their  heads  and  they  to  let  their  meat  and  ale  pass  by  their  mouths 
into  their  bosoms  and  down  to  the  ground,  and  this  they  did.  Word 
was  brought  to  the  King  that  the  clergy  were  consuming  meat  and 
ale,  so  Diarmuid  ate  meat  that  night,  but  the  clerics  on  the  other 
hand  fasted  on  him  through  stratagem. 

"  Now  Diarmuid's  wife — Mughain  was  his  wife — saw  a  dream,  which 
dream  was  this,  that  upon  the  green  of  Tara  was  a  vast  and  wide- 
foliaged  tree,  and  eleven  slaves  hewing  at  it,  but  every  chip  which 
they  knocked  from  it  would  return  into  its  place  again  and  adhere  to 
it  [as  before],  till  at  last  there  came  one  man  that  dealt  the  tree  but  a 
stroke,  and  with  that  single  cut  laid  it  low,  as  the  poet  spoke  the  lay — 

" '  An  evil  dream  did  she  behold 
The  wife  of  the  King  of  Tara  of  the  heavy  torques, 
Although  it  brought  to  her  grief  and  woe 
She  could  not  keep  from  telling  it. 
A  powerful  stout  tree  did  she  behold, 
That  might  shelter  the  birds  of  Ireland, 
Upon  the  hill-side,  smitten  with  axes, 
And  champions  hewing  together  at  it,  etc. 
(48  lines  more.) 


CONFLICTS    WITH  THE   CIVIL  POWER     231 

As  for  Diarmuid,  son  of  Cerbhall  [the  King] ,  after  that  dream  he 
arose  early,  so  that  he  heard  the  clergy  chant  their  psalms,  and  he 
entered  into  the  house  in  which  they  were. 

" '  Alas  ! '  he  said,  '  for  the  iniquitous  contest  which  ye  have  waged 
against  me,  seeing  that  it  is  Ireland's  good  that  I  pursue,  and  to  pre- 
serve her  discipline  and  royal  right,  but  'tis  Ireland's  unpeace  and 
murderousness  which  ye  endeavour  after.  For  God  Himself  it  is 
who  on  such  or  such  a  one  confers  the  orders  of  prince,  of  righteous 
ruler,  and  of  equitable  judgment,  to  the  end  that  he  may  maintain 
his  truthfulness,  his  princely  quality,  and  his  governance.  Now  that 
to  which  a  king  is  bound  is  to  have  mercy  coupled  with  stringency 
of  law,  and  peace  maintained  in  the  sub-districts,  and  hostages  in 
fetters  ;  to  succour  the  wretched,  but  to  overwhelm  enemies,  and  to 
banish  falsehood,  for  unless  on  this  hither  side  one  do  the  King  of 
Heaven's  will,  no  excuse  is  accepted  by  him  on  the  other.  And  thou, 
Ruadhan,' said  Diarmuid,  'through  thee  it  is  that  injury  and  rending 
of  my  mercy  and  of  mine  integrity  to  Godward  is  come  about,  and 
I  pray  God  that  thy  diocese  be  the  first  in  Ireland  that  shall  be 
renounced,  and  thy  Church  lands  the  first  that  shall  be  impugned.' 

"  But  Ruadhan  said,  '  Rather  may  thy  dynasty  come  to  nought,  and 
none  that  is  son  or  grandson  to  thee  establish  himself  in  Tara  for 
ever  ! ' 

"  Diarmuid  said,  '  Be  thy  Church  desolate  continually.' 

"  Ruadhan  said,  '  Desolate  be  Tara  for  ever  and  for  ever. 

"  Diarmuid  said,  '  May  a  limb  of  thy  limbs  be  wanting  to  thee,  and 
come  not  with  thee  under  ground,  and  mayest  thou  lack  an  eye  !' 

" '  Have  thou  before  death  an  evil  countenance  in  sight  of  all ;  may 
thine  enemies  prevail  over  thee  mightily,  and  the  thigh  that  thou 
liftedst  not  before  me  to  stand  up,  be  the  same  mangled  into  pieces.' 

"  Said  Diarmuid,  '  The  thing  [i.e.,  the  man]  about  which  is  our 
dispute,  take  him  with  you,  but  in  thy  church,  Ruadhan,  may  the 
alarm  cry  sound  at  nones  always,  and  even  though  all  Ireland  be 
at  peace  be  thy  church's  precinct  a  scene  of  war  continuously.' 

"  And  from  that  time  to  this  the  same  is  fulfilled."  x 

There  follows  a  poem  of  88  lines  uttered  by  the  King. 
The  same  story  in  all  its  essential  details  is  told  in  the  MS. 

1  There  is  a  poem  ascribed  to  Ruadhan  in  the  MS.  marked  H.  4.  in 
Trinity  College.  O'Clery's  Feilire  na  Naomh  has  a  curious  note  on 
Ruadhan  which  runs  thus  :  Ruadhan  of  Lothra,  "  he  was  of  the  race  of 
Owen  Mor,  son  of  Oilioll  Olum.  A  very  old  ancient  book  (sein  leabhar  ro 
aosta)  as  we  have  mentioned  at  Brigit,  ist  of  February,  states  that  Ruadhan 
of  Lothra  was  in  manners  and  life  like  Matthew  the  Apostle." 


232      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

Egerton  1782,  a  vellum  of  the  fifteenth  century,  which  pro- 
fesses to  follow  the  lost  Book  of  Sligo.  It  is  quite  as  unbiassed 
and  outspoken  about  the  result  of  the  clerics'  action  as  the 
Book  of  Lismore.  It  makes  Diarmuid  address  the  clerics  thus — 

" '  Evil  is  that  which  ye  have  worked  O  clerics,  my  kingdom's  ruina- 
tion. For  in  the  latter  times  Ireland  shall  not  be  better  off  than  she 
is  at  this  present.  But,  however  it  fall  out,'  said  he,  '  may  bad 
chiefs,  their  heirs-apparent,  and  their  men  of  war,  quarter  them- 
selves in  your  churches,  and  may  it  be  their  [read  your  ?]  own  selves 
that  in  your  houses  shall  pull  off  such  peoples'  brogues  for  them,  ye 
being  the  while  powerless  to  rid  yourselves  of  them.'  " 

This  codex  sympathises  so  strongly  with  the  king  that  it 
states  that  one  of  Ruadhan's  eyes  burst  in  his  head  when  the  king 
cursed  him.  Beg  mac  De,  the  celebrated  Christian  prophet,  is 
made  to  prophecy  thus,  when  the  king  asks  him  in  what  fashion 
his  kingdom  should  be  after  his  death, 

"'  An  evil  world,'  said  the  prophet,  'is  now  at  hand,  in  which  men 
shall  be  in  bondage,  woman  free  ;  mast  wanting ;  woods  smooth  ; 
blossom  bad  ;  winds  many ;  wet  summer  ;  green  corn ;  much  cattle  ; 
scant  milk ;  dependants  burdensome  in  every  country,  hogs  lean, 
chiefs  wicked  ;  bad  faith  ;  chronic  killing  ;  a  world  withered,  raths  in 
number.' " 

King  Diarmuid  died  in  558,  according  to  the  "Four 
Masters  ;  "  it  is  certain  he  never  retreated  a  foot  from  Tara, 
but  it  was  probably  his  next  successor  who,  intimidated  at  the 
clerics'  curser  and  the  ringing  of  their  bells — for  they  circled 
Tara  ringing  their  bells  against  it — deserted  the  royal  hill 
for  ever.1 

The  palace  of  Cletty,  not  far  from  Tara,  was  also  cursed  by 
St.  Cairneach  at  the  request  of  the  queen  of  the  celebrated 
Muircheartach  Mor  mac  Earca,  and  deserted  in  consequence.2 

1  After  this  the  High-kings  of  Ireland  belonging  to  the  northern  Ui  Neill 
resided  in  their  own  ancient  palace  of  Aileach  near  Derry,  and  the  High- 
kings  of  the  southern  Ui  Neill  families  resided  at  the  Rath  near  Castle- 
pollard,  or  at  Dun-na-sgiath  ("  the  Fortress  of  the  Shields  ")  on  the  brink  of 
Loch  Ennell,  near  Mullingar.  Brian  Boru  resided  at  Kincora  in  Clare, 

?  See  O'Donovan's  letter  from  Navan  on  Brugh  na  Boinne, 


CONFLICTS    WITH  THE   CIVIL  POWER     233 

Another,  but  probably  more  justifiable,  instance  of  the  clergy 
fasting  upon  a  lay  ruler  and  cursing  him,  was  that  of  the 
notorious  Raghallach  (Reilly),  king  of  Connacht,  who  made 
his  queen  jealous  by  his  infidelity,  and  committed  other  crimes. 
The  story  is  thus  recorded  by  Keating — 

"  The  scandal  of  that  evil  deed  soon  spread  throughout  all  the  land 
and  the  saints  of  Ireland  were  sorrowful  by  reason  thereof.  St. 
Fechin  of  Fobar  [Fore  is  West  Meath]  came  in  person  to  Raghallach 
to  reprehend  him,  and  many  saints  came  in  his  company  to  aid  him 
in  inducing  the  prince  to  discontinue  his  criminal  amour.  But 
Raghallach  despised  their  exhortations.  Thereupon  they  fasted 
against  him,  and  as  there  were  many  other  evil-minded  persons 
besides  him  in  the  land,  they  made  an  especial  prayer  to  God  that  for 
the  sake  of  an  example  he  should  not  live  out  the  month  of  May, 
then  next  to  come  on,  and  that  he  should  fall  by  the  hands  of  villains, 
by  vile  instruments,  and  in  a  filthy  place  ;  and  all  these  things  hap- 
pened to  him," 

as  Keating  goes  on  to  relate,  for  he  was  killed  by  turf-cutters. 

Sometimes  the  saints  are  found  on  opposite  sides,  as  at 
the  Battle  of  Cooldrevna  where  Columcille  prayed  against 
the  High-king's  arms,  and  Finian  prayed  for  them  ;  or  as  in 
the  well-known  case  of  the  expulsion  of  poor  old  St. 
Mochuda  z  and  his  monks  in  631  from  the  monastery  at 
Rathain,  where  his  piety  and  success  had  aroused  the  jealousy 
of  the  clerics  of  the  Ui  Neill,  who  ejected  him  by  force,  despite 
his  malediction.  It  was  then  he  returned  to  his  own  province 
and  founded  Lismore,  which  soon  became  famous.2 

Led  away  by  our  admiration  of  the  magnificent  outburst  of 
learning  and  the  innumerable  examples  of  undoubted  devotion 
displayed  by  Irishmen  from  the  sixth  to  the  ninth  century,  we 
are  very  liable  to  overlook  the  actual  state  of  society,  and  to 
read  into  a  still  primitive  social  constitution  the  thoughts  and 
ideas  of  later  ages,  forgetting  the  real  spirit  of  those  early  times. 
We  must  remember  that  St.  Patrick  had  made  no  change  in 
the  social  constitution  of  the  people,  and  that  the  new  religion 
'  Also  called  Carthachi  9  See  above,  p,  211, 


234      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

in  no  way  affected  their  external  institutions,  and  as  a  natural 
consequence  even  saints  and  clerics  took  the  side  of  their  own 
I  kings  and  people,  and  fought  in  battle  with  as  much  gusto  as 
any  of  the  clansmen.  Women  fought  side  by  side  with  men, 
and  were  only  exempted  from  military  service  in  590,  through 
the  influence  of  Columcille  at  the  synod  of  Druimceat — of 
which  synod  more  hereafter,  and  Adamnan  had  to  get  the  law 
renewed  over  a  hundred  years  later,  for  it  had  become  in- 
operative. The  monks  were  of  course  as  liable  as  any  other  of 
the  tribesmen  to  perform  military  duty  to  their  lords,  and  were 
only  exempted  *  from  it  in  the  year  804.  The  clergy  fought 
with  Cormac  mac  Culenain  as  late  as  908  at  the  battle  where 
he  fell,  and  a  great  number  of  them  were  killed.2  The 
clergy  often  quarrelled  among  themselves  also.  In  673  the 
monks  of  Clonmacnois  and  Durrow  fought  one  another,  and 
the  men  of  Clonmacnois  slew  two  hundred  of  their  opponents. 
In  816  four  hundred  men  were  slain  in  a  fight  between  rival 
monasteries.  The  clan  system,  in  fact,  applied  down  to  the 
eighth  or  ninth  century  almost  as  much  to  the  clergy  as  to  the 
laity,  and  with  the  abandonment  of  Tara  and  the  weakening 
of  the  High-kingship,  the  only  power  which  bid  fair  to  over- 
ride feud  and  faction  was  got  rid  of,  and  every  man  drank  for 
himself  the  intoxicating  draught  of  irresponsibility,  and  each 
princeling  became  a  Caesar  in  his  own  community. 

The  saints  with  their  long-accredited  exercises  of  semi- 
miraculous  powers,  formed  an  admirable  ingredient  wherewith 
to  spice  a  historic  romance,  such  as  the  soul  of  the  Irish  story- 
tellers loved,  and  they  were  not  slow  to  avail  themselves  of  it. 
A  passage  in  the  celebrated  history  of  the  Boru  tribute, 
preserved  in  the  twelfth-century  Book  of  Leinster,  turns  both 
Columcille  and  his  biographer  Adamnan  to  account  in  this 
way,  by  introducing  dialogues  between  them  and  their  con- 

1  By  Fothadh  called  "na  Canoine"  who  persuaded  Aedh  Oirnide  to 
release  them  from  this  duty. 

2  See  "  Fragments  of  Irish  Annals  "  by  O'Donovan,  p.  210,  and  his  note 


CONFLICTS    WITH  THE  CIVIL  POWER    235 

temporary  kings  of  Ireland,  which  are  worth  giving  here,  as 
they  preserve  some  primitive  traits,  but  more  especially  as  an 
example  of  how  the  later  mediaevalists  conceived  their  own 
early  saints.  Aedh  [Ae],  the  High-king  of  Ireland,  had  asked 
Columcille  how  many  kings  of  all  whom  he  himself  had  come 
in  contact  with,  or  had  cognisance  of,  would  win,  or  had  won, 
to  heaven  ;  and  Columcille  answered  : 

"  '  Certainly  I  know  of  only  three,  Daimin  King  of  Oriel,  and  Ailill 
King  of  Connacht,  and  Feradach  of  Corkalee,  King  of  Ossory. 

"'And  what  good  did  they  do/  said  Aedh,  'beyond  all  other 
kings  ? ' 

" '  That's  easy  told,'  said  Columcille,  '  as  for  Daimin  no  cleric  ever 
departed  from  him  having  met  with  a  refusal,  and  he  never  reviled 
a  cleric,  nor  spoiled  church  nor  sanctuary,  and  greatly  did  he  bestow 
upon  the  Lord.  Afterwards  he  went  to  heaven,  on  account  of  his  mild 
dealing  with  the  Lord's  people ;  and  the  clerics  still  chant  his  litany. 

" '  As  for  Ailill,  moreover,  this  is  how  he  found  the  Lord's  clemency ; 
he  fought  the  battle  of  Cul  Conaire  with  the  Clan  Fiacrach,  and  they 
defeated  him  in  that  battle,  and  he  said  to  his  charioteer,  "  Look 
behind  for  us,  and  see  whether  the  slaying  is  great,  and  are  the 
slayers  near  us  ? " 

" '  The  charioteer  looked  behind  him,  and  'twas  what  he  said  : 

" ' "  The  slaying  with  which  your  people  are  slain,"  said  he,  "  is 
unendurable." 

" ' "  It  is  not  their  own  guilt  that  falls  on  them,  but  the  guilt  of  my 
pride  and  my  untruthf ulness,"  said  he ;  "  and  turn  the  chariot  for  us 
against  [the  enemy],"  said  he,  "  for  if  I  be  slain  amidst  them  (?)  it 
will  be  the  saving  of  a  multitude.' 

" '  Thereupon  the  chariot  was  turned  round  against  the  enemy,  and 
thereafter  did  Ailill  earnestly  repent,  and  fell  by  his  enemies.  So 
that  man  got  the  Lord's  clemency,'  said  Columcille. 

"'As  for  Feradach,1  the  King  of  Ossory,  moreover,  he  was  a 
covetous  man  without  a  conscience,  and  if  he  were  to  hear  that  a 
man  in  his  territory  had  only  one  scruple  of  gold  or  silver,  he  would 
take  it  to  himself  by  force,  and  put  it  in  the  covers  of  goblets 
and  crannogues  and  swords  and  chessmen.  Thereafter  there  came 
upon  him  an  unendurable  sickness.  They  collect  round  him  all 
his  treasures,  so  that  he  had  them  in  his  bed.  His  enemies  came, 
the  Clan  Connla,  after  that,  to  seize  the  house  on  him.  His  sons, 


1  This  story  is  also  told  in  the  "  Three  Fragments  of  Irish  Annals,"  p.  9. 


236      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

too,  came  to  him  to  carry  away  the  jewels  with  them  [to  save  them 
for  him]. 

" ' "  Do  not  take  them  away,  my  sons,"  said  he,  "  for  I  harried  many 
for  those  treasures,  and  I  desire  to  harry  myself  on  this  side  the 
tomb  for  them,  and  that  my  enemies  may  bring  them  away  of  my 
good  will,  so  that  the  Deity  may  not  harry  me  on  the  other  side." 

" '  After  that  his  sons  departed  from  him,  and  he  himself  made 
earnest  repentance,  and  died  at  the  hands  of  his  enemies,  and  gains 
the  clemency  of  the  Lord.' 

"'Now  as  for  me  myself/  said  Aedh,  'shall  I  gain  the  Lord's 
clemency  ? ' 

" '  Thou  shalt  not  gain  it  on  any  account,'  said  Columcille. 

'"Well,  then,  cleric,'  said  he,  'procure  for  me  from  the  Deity  that 
the  Leinster  men  [at  least]  may  not  overthrow  me.' 

" '  Well,  now,  that  is  difficult  for  me,'  said  Columcille,  '  for  my 
mother  was  one  of  them,  and  the  Leinstermen  came  to  me  to 
Durrow,1  and  made  as  though  they  would  fast  upon  me,  till  I  should 
grant  them  a  sister's  son's  request,  and  what  they  asked  of  me  was 
that  no  outside  king  should  ever  overthrow  them ;  and  I  promised 
them  that  too,  but  here  is  my  cowl  for  thee,  and  thou  shalt  not  be 
slain  while  it  is  about  thee.' " 

Less  clement  is  Adamnan  depicted  in  his  interview,  over  a 
century  later,  with  King  Finnachta,  who  had  just  been  per- 
suaded by  St.  Moiling  2  to  remit  the  Boru  tribute  (then  leviable 
off  Leinster),  until  luan^  by  which  the  King  unwarily  under- 
stood Monday,  but  the  more  acute  saint  Doomsday,  the  word 
having  both  significations.  Adamnan  saw  through  the  decep- 
tion in  a  moment,  and  hastened  to  interrupt  the  plans  of  his 
brother  saint. 

"  He  sought  therefore,"  says   the  Book  of  Leinster,  "  the  place 
where  [king]  Finnachta  was,  and  sent  a  clerk  of  his  familia  to  summon 
him  to  a  conference.     Finnachta,  at  the  instant,  busied  himself  with 
a  game  of  chess,  and  the  cleric  said,  '  Come,  speak  with  Adamnan.' 
" '  I  will  not,'  he  answered,  '  until  this  game  be  ended.' 
"The   ecclesiastic  returned  to  Adamnan  and  retailed   him   this 
answer.    Then  the  saint  said,  '  Go  and  tell  him  that  in  the  interval 

1  See  above,  p.  170. 

~  For  Moiling,  see  above,  p.  209-10.  The  following  translation  is  by 
Standish  Hayes  O'Grady,  "  Silva  Gadelica,"  p,  422, 


CONFLICTS    WITH  THE   CIVIL  POWER    237 

I  shall  chant  fifty  psalms,  in  which  fifty  is  a  single  psalm  that  will 
deprive  his  children  and  grandchildren,  and  even  any  namesake  of 
his,  for  ever  of  the  kingdom.' x 

"  Again  the  clerk  accosted  Finnachta  and  told  him  this,  but  until 
his  game  was  played  the  King  never  noticed  him  at  all. 

" '  Come,  speak  with  Adamnan,'  repeated  the  clerk,  '  and ' 

"'I  will  not,'  answered  Finnachta,  'till  this  [fresh]  game,  too, 
shall  be  finished/  all  which  the  cleric  rendered  to  Adamnan,  who 
said  : 

" '  A  second  time  begone  to  him,  tell  him  that  I  will  sing  other 
fifty  psalms,  in  which  fifty  is  one  that  will  confer  on  him  shortness 
of  life.' 

"This,  too,  the  clerk,  when  he  was  come  back,  proclaimed  to 
Finnachta,  but  till  the  game  was  done,  he  never  even  perceived  the 
messenger,  who  for  the  third  time  reiterated  his  speech. 

"  '  Till  this  new  game  be  played  out  I  will  not  go,'  said  the  King, 
and  the  cleric  carried  it  to  Adamnan. 

" '  Go  to  him,'  the  holy  man  said,  '  tell  him  that  in  the  meantime  I 
will  sing  fifty  psalms,  and  among  them  is  one  that  will  deprive  him 
of  attaining  the  Lord's  peace.' 

"  This  the  clerk  imparted  to  Finnachta,  who,  when  he  heard  it, 
with  speed  and  energy  put  from  him  the  chess-board,  and  hastened 
to  where  Adamnan  was. 

" '  Finnachta,'  quoth  the  saint,  '  what  is  thy  reason  for  coming 
now,  whereas  at  the  first  summons  thou  earnest  not  ? ' 

" '  Soon  said,'  replied  Finnachta.  '  As  for  that  which  first  thou 
didst  threaten  against  me ;  that  of  my  children,  or  even  of  my 
namesakes,  not  an  individual  ever  should  rule  Ireland — I  took  it 
easily.  The  other  matter  which  thou  heldest  out  to  me — shortness 
of  life — that  I  esteemed  but  lightly,  for  Moiling  had  promised  me 
heaven.  But  the  third  thing  which  thou  threatenedst  me — to  deprive 
me  of  the  Lord's  peace — that  I  endured  not  to  hear  without  coming 
in  obedience  to  thy  voice.' 

"  Now  the  motive  for  which  God  wrought  this  was  :  that  the  gift 
which  Moiling  had  promised  to  the  King  for  remission  of  the  tribute 
He  suffered  not  Adamnan  to  dock  him  of." 

It  would  be  easy  to  multiply  such  scenes  from  the  writings 
of  the  ancient  Irish.  That  they  are  not  altogether  eleventh 
or  twelfth-century  inventions,  but  either  the  embodiment  of  a 

1  For  a  description  of  the  awful  consequences  of  a  saint's  curse  that 
make  a  timid  lunatic  out  of  a  valliant  warrior  see  O'Donovan's  frag- 
mentary "Annals,"  p.  233. 


238      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

vivid  tradition,  or  else,  in  some  cases,  the  working-tip  of  earlier 
documents,  now  lost,  is,  I  think,  certain,  but  we  possess  no 
criterion  whereby  we  may  winnow  out  the  grains  of  truth 
from  the  chaff  of  myth,  invention,  or  perhaps  in  some  cases 
(where  tribal  honour  is  at  stake)  deliberate  falsehood.  The 
only  thing  we  can  say  with  perfect  certainty  is  that  this  is  the 
way  in  which  the  contemporaries  of  St.  Lawrence  O'Toole 
pictured  for  themselves  the  contemporaries  of  St.  Columcille 
and  St.  Adamnan. 


CHAPTER  XIX 

THE     BARDIC     SCHOOLS 

WE  must  now,  leaving  verifiable  history  behind  us,  attempt  a 
cautious  step  backwards  from  the  known  into  the  doubtful, 
and  see  what  in  the  way  of  literature  is  said  to  have  been 
produced  by  the  pagans.     We  know  that  side  by  side  with 
the  colleges  of  the  clergy  there  flourished,  perhaps  in  a  more  \ 
informal  way,  the  purely  Irish  schools  of  the  Brehons  and  the  1 
Bards.     Unhappily     however,    while,    thanks    to    the    great  > 
number  of  the  Lives  of  the  Saints,1  we    know  much  about 
the  Christian  colleges,  there  is  very  little  to  be  discovered  about 
the  bardic  institutions.     These  were  almost  certainly  a  con-\ 
tinuation  of  the  schools  of  the  druids,  and  represented  some- 
thing far  more  antique  than  even  the  very  earliest  schools  of  ; 
the  Christians,  but  unlike  them  they  were  not  centred  in  a 
fixed  locality  nor  in  a  cluster  of  houses,  but  seem  to  have  been 
peripatetic.      The    bardic    scholars    grouped    themselves   not 
round  a  locality   but  round  a  personality,  and    wherever    it 
pleased  their  master  to  wander — and  that  was  pretty  much  all 

1  O'Clery  notices,  in  his  Feilire  na  Naomh,  the  lives  of  thirty-one  saints 
written  in  Irish,  all  extant  in  his  time,  not  to  speak  of  Latin  ones.  I  fancy 
most  of  them  still  survive.  Stokes  printed  nine  from  the  Book  of  Lismore ; 
Standish  Hayes  O'Grady  four  more  from  various  sources. 


240     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

round  Ireland — there  they  followed,  and  the  people  seem  to 
have  willingly  supported  them. 

There  seems  to  be  some  confusion  as  to  the  forms  into 
which  what  must  have  been  originally  the  druidic  school 
disintegrated  itself  in  the  fifth  and  succeeding  centuries,  but 
from  it  we  can  see  emerging  the  poet,  the  Brehon,  and  the 
historian,  not  all  at  once,  but  gradually.  In  the  earliest  period 
the  functions  of  all  three  were  often,  if  not  always,  united  in 
one  single  person,  and  all  poets  were  ipso  facto  judges  as  well. 
We  have  a  distinct  account  of  the  great  occasion  upon  which 
the  poet  lost  his  privilege  of  acting  as  a  judge  merely  because 
he  was  a  poet.  It  appears  that  from  the  very  earliest  date  the 
learned  classes,  especially  the  "  files,"  had  evolved  a  dialect  of 
their  own,  which  was  perfectly  dark  and  obscure  to  every  one 
except  themselves.  This  was  the  Bearla  Feni,  in  which  so 
much  of  the  Brehon  law  and  many  poems  are  written,  and 
which  continued  to  be  used,  to  some  extent,  by  poets  down  to 
the  very  beginning  of  the  eighteenth  century.  Owing  to 
their  predilection  for  this  dialect,  the  first  blow,  according  to 
Irish  accounts,  was  struck  at  their  judicial  supremacy  by  the 
hands  of  laymen,  during  the  reign  of  Conor  mac  Nessa,  some 
time  before  the  birth  of  Christ.  This  was  the  occasion  when 
the  sages  Fercertne  and  Neide"  contended  for  the  office  of 
arch-ollav  of  Erin,  with  its  beautiful  robe  of  feathers,  the 
Tugen.1  Their  discourse,  still  extant  in  at  least  three  MSS. 
under  the  title  of  the  "  Dialogue  of  the  Two  Sages,"  2  was  so 
learned,  and  they  contended  with  one  another  in  terms  so 
abstruse  that,  as  the  chronicler  in  the  Book  of  Ballymote 
puts  it  : — 

"  Obscure  to  every  one  seemed  the  speech  which  the  poets  uttered 
in  that  discussion,  and  the  legal  decision  which  they  delivered  was 
not  clear  to  the  kings  and  to  the  other  poets. 

" '  These  men  alone/  said  the  kings,  '  have  their  judgment  and 


1  See  Cormac's  glossary  sub  voce. 
8  See  "  Irische  Texte,"  Dritte  Serie,  i  Heft,  pp.  187  and  204. 


THE  BARDIC  SCHOOLS  241 

their  skill,  and  their  knowledge.  In  the  first  place  we  do  not 
understand  what  they  say.' 

" '  Well,  then,'  said  Conor,  <  every  one  shall  have  his  share  therein 
from  to-day  for  ever.' "  l 

This  was  the  occasion  upon  which  Conor  made  the  law  that 
the  office  of  poet  should  no  longer  carry  with  it,  of  necessity, 
the  office  of  judge,  for,  says  the  ancient  writer,  "poets  alone 
had  judicature  from  the  time  that  Amairgin  Whiteknee 
delivered  the  first  judgment  in  Erin  "  until  then. 

That  the  Bardic  schools,  which  we  know  flourished  as  public 
institutions  with  scarcely  a  break  from  the  Synod  of  Drumceat 
in  590  (where  regular  lands  were  set  apart  for  their  endow-  / 
ment)  down  to  the  seventeenth  century,  were  really  a| 
continuation  of  the  Druidic  schools,  and  embodied  much  that/ 
was  purely  pagan  in  their  curricula,  is,  I  think,  amply  shown 
by  the  curious  fragments  of  metrical  text-books  preserved  in 
the  Books  of  Leinster  and  Ballymote,  in  a  MS.  in  Trinity 
College,  and  in  a  MS.  in  the  Bodleian,  all  four  of  which  have 
been  recently  admirably  edited  by  Thurneysen  as  a  continuous 
text.2  He  has  not  however  ventured  upon  a  translation,  for 
the  scholar  would  be  indeed  a  bold  one  who  in  the  present  state 
of  Celtic  scholarship  would  attempt  a  complete  interpretation 
of  tracts  so  antique  and  difficult.  That  they  date,  partially  at 
least,  from  pre-Christian  times  seems  to  me  certain  from  their 
prescribing  amongst  other  things  for  the  poet's  course  in  one 
of  his  years  of  study  a  knowledge  of  the  magical  incantations 
called  Tenmlaida,  Imbas  forosnai^  and  ^Dichetal  do  chennaib  na 
tuaithe,  and  making  him  in  another  year  learn  a  certain  poem 
or  incantation  called  Cetnad^  of  which  the  text  says  that — 

"  It  is  used  for  finding  out  a  theft.  One  sings  it,  that  is  to  say, 
through  the  right  fist  on  the  track  of  the  stolen  beast "  [observe  the 
antique  assumption  that  the  only  kind  of  wealth  to  be  stolen  is  cattle] 

1  Agallamh  an  da  Suadh. 

2  "  Irische  Texte,"  Dritte  serie,  Heft  i. 

3  See  above,  p.  84. 


242      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

"  or  on  the  track  of  the  thief,  in  case  the  beast  is  dead.  And  one  sings 
it  three  times  on  the  one  [track]  or  the  other.  If,  however,  one 
does  not  find  the  track,  one  sings  it  through  the  right  fist,  and  goes 
to  sleep  upon  it,  and  in  one's  sleep  the  man  who  has  brought  it 
away  is  clearly  shown  and  made  known.  Another  virtue  [of  this 
lay]  :  one  speaks  it  into  the  right  palm  and  rubs  with  it  the  quarters 
of  the  horse  before  one  mounts  it,  and  the  horse  will  not  be  over- 
thrown, and  the  man  will  not  be  thrown  off  or  wounded." 

Another  Cetnad  to  be  learned  by  the  poet,  in  which  he 
desires  length  of  life,  is  addressed  to  "  the  seven  daughters  of 
the  sea,  who  shape  the  thread  of  the  long-lived  children." 

Another  with  which  he  had  to  make  himself  familiar  was  the 
Glam  dichinnj-  intended  to  satirise  and  punish  the  prince  who 
refused  to  a  poet  the  reward  of  his  poem.  The  poet — 

"  was  to  fast  upon  the  lands  of  the  king  for  whom  the  poem  was  to 
be  made,  and  the  consent  of  thirty  laymen,  thirty  bishops" — a 
Christian  touch  to  make  the  passage  pass  muster — "  and  thirty  poets 
should  be  had  to  compose  the  satire  ;  and  it  was  a  crime  to  them  to 
prevent  it  when  the  reward  of  the  poem  was  withheld  " — a  pagan  touch 
as  a  make-weight  on  the  other  side  !  "  The  poet  then,  in  a  company 
of  seven,  that  is,  six  others  and  himself,  upon  whom  six  poetic 
degrees  had  been  conferred,  namely  afocloc,  macfuirmedh,  doss,  cana, 
cliy  anradh,  and  ollamh,  went  at  the  rising  of  the  sun  to  a  hill  which 
should  be  situated  on  the  boundary  of  seven  lands,  and  each  of  them 
was  to  turn  his  face  to  a  different  land,  and  the  ollamh 's  (ollav's)  face 
was  to  be  turned  to  the  land  of  the  king,  who  was  to  be  satirised, 
and  their  backs  should  be  turned  to  a  hawthorn  which  should  be 
growing  upon  the  top  of  a  hill,  and  the  wind  should  be  blowing  from 
the  north,  and  each  man  was  to  hold  a  perforated  stone  and  a  thorn 
of  the  hawthorn  in  his  hand,  and  each  man  was  to  sing  a  verse  of 
this  composition  for  the  king — the  ollamh  or  chief  poet  to  take  the 
lead  with  his  own  verse,  and  the  others  in  concert  after  him  with 
theirs ;  and  each  then  should  place  his  stone  and  his  thorn  under 
the  stem  of  the  hawthorn,  and  if  it  was  they  that  were  in  the 
wrong  in  the  case,  the  ground  of  the  hill  would  swallow  them,  and 
if  it  was  the  king  that  was  in  the  wrong,  the  ground  would  swallow 
him  and  his  wife,  and  his  son  and  his  steed,  and  his  robes  and  his 
hound.  The  satire  of  the  macfuirmedh  fell  on  the  hound,  the  satire 


1  See  O'Curry's  "  Manners  and  Customs,"  vol.  ii.  p.  217,  and  "  Irische 
Texte,"  Dritte  serie,  Heft.  i.  pp.  96  and  125. 


THE  BARDIC  SCHOOLS  243 

of  thefocloc  on  the  robes,  the  satire  of  the  doss  on  the  arms,  the 
satire  of  the  cana  on  the  wife,  the  satire  of  the  cli  on  the  son,  the 
satire  of  the  anrad  on  the  steed,1  the  satire  of  the  ollam/i  on  the 
king." 

These  instances  that  I  have  mentioned  occurring  in  the. 
books  of  the  poets'  instruction,  are  evidently  remains  of  magic 
incantations  and  terrifying  magic  ceremonies,  taken  over  from 
the  schools  and  times  of  the  druids,  and  carried  on  into  the  i 
Christian  era,  for  nobody,  I  imagine,  could  contend  that  they 
had  their  origin  after  Ireland  had  been  Christianised.2  And 
the  occurrence  in  the  poets'  text-books  of  such  evidently  pagan 
passages,  side  by  side  with  allusions  to  Athairne  the  poet — a 
contemporary  of  Conor  mac  Nessa,  a  little  before  the  birth  of 
Christ,  Caoiltc,  the  Fenian  poet  of  the  third  century,  Cormac 
his  contemporary,  Laldcend  mac  Bairchida  about  the  year 
400,  and  others — seems  to  me  to  be  fresh  proof  for  the  real 
objective  existence  of  these  characters.  For  if  part  of  the 
poets'  text-books  can  be  thus  shown  to  have  preserved  things 
taught  in  the  pre-Christian  times — to  be  in  fact  actually  pre- 
Christian — why  should  we  doubt  the  reality  of  the  pre-Christian 
persons  mixed  up  with  them  ? 

The  first  poem  written  in  Ireland  by  a  Milesian  is  said  to 
be  the  curious  rhapsody  of  Amergin,  the  brother  of  Eber,  Ir, 
and  Erimon,  who  on  landing  broke  out  in  a  strain  of 
exultation  : — 

"  I  am  the  wind  which  breathes  upon  the  sea, 
I  am  the  wave  of  the  ocean, 
I  am  the  murmur  of  the  billows, 
\      I  am  the  ox  of  the  seven  combats, 
I  am  the  vulture  upon  the  rock, 
I  am  a  beam  of  the  sun, 


1  It  is  curious  to  thus  make  the  steed  rank  apparently  next  to  the  king 
himself,  and  above  the  wife  and  son,  for  the  anrad  who  curses  the  steed 
inks  next  to  the  ollamh. 

2Thurneysen  expresses  some  doubt  about  the  antiquity  of  the  last 
:itation. 


244      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

am  the  fairest  of  plants, 

am  a  wild  boar  in  valour, 

am  a  salmon  in  the  water, 

am  a  lake  in  the  plain, 

am  a  word  of  science, 
I  am  the  point  of  the  lance  of  battle, 
I  am  the  god  who  creates  in  the  head  [i.e.,  of  man]  the  fire  [i.e., 

the  thought] 

Who  is  it  who  throws  light  into  the  meeting  on  the  mountain  ? 
Who  announces  the  ages  of  the  moon  [if  not  I]  ? 
Who  teaches  the  place  where  couches  the  sea  [if  not  I]  ? " x 

There  are  two  more  poems  attributed  to  Amergin  of  much 
the  same  nature,  very  ancient  and  very  strange.  Irish 
tradition  has  always  represented  these  poems  as  the  first  made 
by  our  ancestors  in  Ireland,  and  no  doubt  they  do  actually 
represent  the  oldest  surviving  lines  in  the  vernacular  of  any 
country  in  Europe  except  Greece  alone. 

The  other  pre-Christian  poets2  of  whom  we  hear  most,  and 
to  whom  certain  surviving  fragments  are  ascribed,  are  Feir- 
ceirtne,  surnamed  file^  or  the  poet,  who  is  usually  credited  with 
the  authorship  of  the  well-known  grammatical  treatise  called 
Uraicept  na  n-fLigeas  or  "  Primer  of  the  Learned."s  It  was  he 

1  See  Text  I.  paragraph  123  of  Thurneysen's  "  Mittelirische  Verslehren " 
for  three  versions  of  this  curious  poem,  printed  side  by  side  from  the 
Books  of  Leinster  and  Ballymote,  and  a  MS.  in  the  Bodleian.  The  old 
Irish  tract  for  the  instruction  of  poets  gives  it  as  an  example  of  what  it 
calls  Cetal  do  chendaib.  I  have  followed  D'Arbois  de  Jubainville's  inter- 
pretation of  it.  He  sees  in  it  a  pantheistic  spirit,  but  Dr.  Sigerson  has 
proved,  I  think  quite  conclusively,  that  it  is  liable  to  a  different  interpre- 
tation, a  panegyric  upon  the  bard's  own  prowess,  couched  in  enigmatic 
metaphor.  (See  "  Bards  of  the  Gael  and  Gaul,"  p.  379.) 

8  A  number  of  names  are  mentioned — chiefly  in  connection  with  law 
fragments — of  kings  and  poets  who  lived  centuries  before  the  birth  of 
Christ,  including  an  elegy  by  Lughaidh,  son  of  Ith  (from  whom  the  Ithians 
sprang),  on  his  wife's  death,  Cimbaeth  the  founder  of  Emania,  before 
whose  reign  Tighearnach  the  Annalist  considered  omnia  monumenta 
Scotormn  to  be  incerta,  Roigne,  the  son  of  Hugony  the  Great,  who  lived 
nearly  three  hundred  years  before  Christ,  and  some  others. 

3  The  "  Uraicept  "  or  "  Uraiceacht "  is  sometimes  ascribed  to  Forchern. 


THE  BARDIC  SCHOOLS  245 

who  contended  with  Neide  for  the  arch-poet's  robe,  causing  King 
Conor  to  decide  that  no  poet  should  in  future  be  also  of  necessity 
a  judge.  The  Uraicept  begins  with  this  preface  or  introduction: 
"  The  Book  of  Feirceirtn£  here.  Its  place  Emania ;  its  time 
the  time  of  Conor  mac  Nessa ;  its  person  Feirceirtne  the  poet ; 
its  cause  to  bring  ignorant  people  to  knowledge."  There  is 
also  a  poem  attributed  to  him  on  the  death  of  Curoi  mac 
Daire,  the  great  southern  chieftain,  whom  Cuchulain  slew, 
and  the  Book  of  Invasions  contains  a  valuable  poem  ascribed  to 
him,  recounting  how  Ollamh  Fodla,  a  monarch  who  is  said  to 
have  flourished  many  centuries  before,  established  a  college  of 
professors  at  Tara. 

There  was  a  poet  called  Adhna,  the  father  of  that  Neide 
with  whom  Feirceirtne  contended  for  the  poet's  robe, 
who  also  lived  at  the  court  of  Conor  mac  Nessa,  and  his 
name  is  mentioned  in  connection  with  some  fragments  of 
laws. 

Athairne,  the  overbearing  insolent  satirist  from  the  Hill 
of  Howth,  who  figures  largely  in  Irish  romance,  was 
contemporaneous  with  these,  though  I  do  not  know  that 
any  poem  is  attributed  to  him.  But  he  and  a  poet 
called  Forchern,  with  Feirceirtne*  and  Neide,  are  said  to 
have  compiled  a  code  of  laws,  now  embodied  with  others 
under  the  title  of  Breithe  Neimhidh  in  the  Brehon  I  -aw 
Books. 

There  was  a  poet  Lughar  at  the  Court  of  Oilioll  and  Meve 
in  Connacht  about  the  same  time,  and  a  poem  on  the  descen- 
dants of  Fergus  mac  Roigh  [Roy]  is  ascribed  to  him,  but  as 
he  was  contemporaneous  with  that  warrior  he  could  not  have 
written  about  his  descendants. 


It  gives  examples  of  the  declensions  of  nouns  and  adjectives  in  Irish, 
distinguishing  feminine  nouns  from  masculine,  etc.  It  gives  rules  of 
syntax,  and  exemplifies  the  declensions  by  quotations  from  ancient  poets. 
A  critical  edition  of  it  from  the  surviving  manuscripts  that  contain  it  in 
whole  or  part  is  a  desideratum. 


246      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

There  is  a  prose  tract  called  Moran's  Will,1  ascribed  to 
Moran,  a  well-known  jurist  who  lived  at  the  close  of  the  first 
century. 

Several  other  authors,  either  of  short  poems  or  law  frag- 
ments, are  mentioned  in  the  second  and  third  centuries,  such 
as  Feradach  king  of  Ireland,  Modan,  Ciothruadh  the  poet, 
Fingin,  Oilioll  Olum  himself,  the  great  king  of  Munster,  to 
whom  are  traced  so  many  of  the  southern  families.  Fithil,  a 
judge,  and  perhaps  some  others,  none  of  whom  need  be 
particularised. 

At  the  end  of  the  third  century  we  come  upon  three  or 
four  names  of  vast  repute  in  Irish  history,  into  whose  mouths 
a  quantity  of  pieces  are  put,  most  of  which  are  evidently  of 
later  date.  These  are  the  great  Cormac  mac  Art  himself, 
the  most  striking  king  that  ever  reigned  in  pagan  Ireland,  he 
who  built  those  palaces  on  Tara  Hill  whose  ruins  still  remain  ; 
Finn  mac  Cumhail  his  son-in-law  and  captain  ;  Ossian,  Finn's 
son  ;  Fergus,  Ossian 's  brother  ;  and  Caoilte  [Cweeltya]  mac 
Ronain. 

The  poetry  ascribed  to  Finn  mac  Cumhail,  Ossian,  and  the 
other  Fenian  singers  we  will  not  examine  in  this  place,  but 
we  must  not  pass  by  one  of  the  most  remarkable  prose  tracts 
of  ancient  Ireland  with  which  1  am  acquainted,  the  famous 
treatise  ascribed  to  King  Cormac,  and  well  known  in  Irish 
literature  as  the  "  Teagasg  riogh,"  or  Instruction  of  a  Prince, 
which  is  written  in  a  curious  style,  by  way  of  question  and 
answer.  Cairbre,  Cormac's  son,  he  who  afterwards  fell  out 
with  and  overthrew  the  Fenians,  is  supposed  to  be  learning 
kingly  wisdom  at  his  father's  feet,  and  that  experienced  monarch 
instructs  him  in  the  pagan  morality  of  the  time,  and  gives 
him  all  kinds  of  information  and  advice.  The  piece,  which  is 
heavily  glossed  in  the  Book  of  Ballymote,  on  account  of  the 
antiquity  of  the  language,  is  of  some  length,  and  is  far  too 
interesting  to  pass  by  without  quoting  from  it. 
1  Udacht  Morain,  H.  2,  7,  T.  C.,  D. 


THE  BARDIC  SCHOOLS  247 

THE    INSTRUCTION    OF   A    PRINCE, 

"  '  O  grandson  of  Con,  O  Cormac,'  said  Cairbre,  '  what  is  good  for 
a  king.'1 

" '  That  is  plain,'  said  Cormac,  '  it  is  good  for  him  to  have  patience 
and  not  to  dispute,  self-government  without  anger,  affability  without 
haughtiness,  diligent  attention  to  history,  strict  observance  of  cove- 
nants and  agreements,  strictness  mitigated  by  mercy  in  the  execution 
of  laws.  ...  It  is  good  for  him  [to  make]  fertile  land,  to  invite  ships 
to  import  jewels  of  price  across  sea,  to  purchase  and  bestow  raiment, 
[to  keep]  vigorous  swordsmen  for  protecting  his  territories,  [to  make] 
war  outside  his  own  territories,  to  attend  the  sick,  to  discipline  his 
soldiers  ...  let  him  enforce  fear,  let  him  perfect  peace,  [let  him] 
give  much  of  metheglin  and  wine,  let  him  pronounce  just  judgments 
of  light,  let  him  speak  all  truth,  for  it  is  through  the  truth  of  a  king 
that  God  gives  favourable  seasons.' 

"  'O  grandson  of  Con,  O  Cormac/  said  Cairbre,  'what  is  good  for 
the  welfare  of  a  country  ? ' 

"  '  That  is  plain;  said  Cormac, '  frequent  convocations  of  sapient 
and  good  men  to  investigate  its  affairs,  to  abolish  each  evil  and 
retain  each  wholesome  institution,  to  attend  to  the  precepts  of  the 
ciders ;  let  every  assembly  be  convened  according  to  law,  let  the 
law  be  in  the  hands  of  the  nobles,  let  the  chieftains  be  upright  and 
unwilling  to  oppress  the  poor,' "  etc.,  etc. 

A  more  interesting  passage  is  the  following  : — 

"  '  O  grandson  of  Con,  O  Cormac,  what  are  the  duties  of  a  prince 
at  a  banqueting-house  ? ' 

" '  A  Prince  on  Samhan's  [now  All  Souls]  Day,  should  light  his 
lamps,  and  welcome  his  guests  with  clapping  of  hands,  procure 
comfortable  seats,  the  cupbearers  should  be  respectable  and  active 
in  the  distribution  of  meat  and  drink.  Let  there  be  moderation  of 
music,  short  stories,  a  welcoming  countenance,  a  welcome  for  the 
learned,  pleasant  conversations,  and  the  like,  these  are  the  duties  of 
the  prince,  and  the  arrangement  of  the  banqueting-house.' " 

After  this  Cairbre  puts  an  important  question  which  was 
asked  often  enough  during  the  period  of  the  Brehon  law,  and 

1  In  the  original  in  the  Book  of  Ballymote  :  "A  ua  Cuinn  a  Cormaic, 
ol  coirbre  cia  is  deach  [i.e.,  maith],  do  Ri.  Nin  ol  cormac  [i.e.,  Ni  doiligh 
liom  sin].  As  deach  [i.e.,  maith],  do  eimh  ainmne  [i.e.,  foighde]  gan  deabha 
[i.e.,  imreasoin]  uallcadi  fosdadh  [i.e.,  foasdadh]  gan  fearg.  Soagallamha 
gan  mordhacht,"  etc.  The  glosses  in  brackets  are  written  above  the  words. 


248     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

which  for  over  a  thousand  years  scarce  ever  received  a  different 
answer.  He  asks,  "  For  what  qualifications  is  a  king  elected 
over  countries  and  tribes  of  people  ?  " 

Cormac  in  his  answer  embodies  the  views  of  every  clan  in 
Ireland  in  their  practical  choice  of  a  leader. 

"  From  the  goodness  of  his  shape  and  family,  from  his  ex- 
perience and  wisdom,  from  his  prudence  and  magnanimity,  from 
his  eloquence  and  bravery  in  battle,  and  from  the  number  of  his 
friends." 

After  this  follows  a  long  description  of  the  qualifications  of  a 
prince,  and  Cairbre  having  heard  it  puts  this  question  : — "  O 
grandson  of  Con,  what  was  thy  deportment  when  a  youth  ; " 
to  which  he  receives  the  following  striking  answer : 

"  '  I  was  cheerful  at  the  Banquet  of  the  Midh-chuarta  [Mee-cuarta, 
"house  of  the  circulation  of  mead3'],  fierce  in  battle,  but  vigilant  and 
circumspect.  I  was  kind  to  friends,  a  physician  to  the  sick,  merciful 
towards  the  weak,  stern  towards  the  headstrong.  Although  possessed 
of  knowledge,  I  was  inclined  towards  taciturnity.1  Although  strong 
I  was  not  haughty.  I  mocked  not  the  old  although  I  was  young.  I 
was  not  vain  although  I  was  valiant.  When  I  spoke  of  a  person  in 
his  absence  I  praised,  not  defamed  him,  for  it  is  by  these  customs 
that  we  are  known  to  be  courteous  and  civilised  (liaghalach).' " 

There  is  an  extremely  beautiful  answer  given  later  on  by 
Cormac  to  the  rather  simple  question  of  his  son  : 

"  '  O  grandson  of  Con,  what  is  good  for  me  ? ' 

" '  If  thou  attend  to  my  command,'  answers  Cormac,  'thou  wilt  not 


1  Compare  Henry  IV.'s  advice  to  his  son,  not  to  make  himself  too  familiar 
but  rather  to  stand  aloof  from  his  companions. 

"  Had  I  so  lavish  of  my  presence  been, 
So  common-hackneyed  in  the  eyes  of  men, 
So  stale  and  cheap  to  vulgar  company — 
Opinion,  that  did  help  me  to  the  crown, 
Had  still  kept  loyal  to  possession,"  etc. 

As  for  Richard  his  predecessor — 

"  The  skipping  king,  he  ambled  up  and  down 
With  shallow  jesters  and  rash  bavin  wits, 
Soon  kindled,  and  soon  burned  ;  carded  his  state  ; 
Mingled  his  royalty  with  capering  fools, '  etc. 

"  Henry  IV.,"  Part  I.,  act  iii.,  scene  2. 


THE  BARDIC  SCHOOLS  249 

mock  the  old  although  thou  art  young,  nor  the  poor  although  thou 
art  well-clad,  nor  the  lame  although  thou  art  agile,  nor  the  blind 
although  thou  art  clear-sighted,  nor  the  feeble  although  thou  art 
strong,  nor  the  ignorant  although  thou  art  learned.  Be  not  slothful, 
nor  passionate,  nor  penurious,  nor  idle,  nor  jealous,  for  he  who  is  so 
is  an  object  of  hatred  to  God  as  well  as  to  man.'  " 

" '  O  grandson  of  Con,'  asks  Cairbre,  in  another  place,  '  I  would 
fain  know  how  I  am  to  conduct  myself  among  the  wise  and  among 
the  foolish,  among  friends  and  among  strangers,  among  the  old  and 
among  the  young,'  and  to  this  question  his  father  gives  this  notable 
response. 

" '  Be  not  too  knowing  nor  too  simple  ;  be  not  proud,  be  not  inactive, 
be  not  too  humble  nor  yet  haughty  ;  be  not  talkative  but  be  not  too 
silent ;  be  not  timid  neither  be  severe.  For  if  thou  shouldest  appear 
too  knowing  thou  wouldst  be  satirised  and  abused  ;  if  too  simple 
thou  wouldst  be  imposed  upon  ;  if  too  proud  thou  wouldst  be 
shunned  ;  if  too  humble  thy  dignity  would  suffer  ;  if  talkative  thou 
wouldst  not  be  deemed  learned  ;  if  too  severe  thy  character  would 
be  defamed  ;  if  too  timid  thy  rights  would  be  encroached  upon.' " 

To  the  curious  question,  "  O  grandson  of  Con,  what  are  the 
most  lasting  things  in  the  world  ?  "  the  equally  curious  and  to 
me  unintelligible  answer  is  returned,  "  Grass,  copper,  and  yew." 

Of  women,  King  Cormac,  like  so  many  monarchs  from 
Solomon  down,  has  nothing  good  to  say,  perhaps  his  high 
position  did  not  help  him  to  judge  them  impartially.  At  least, 
to  the  question,  "  O  grandson  of  Con,  how  shall  I  distinguish 
the  characters  of  women  ?  "  the  following  bitter  answer  is 
given  : 

" '  I  know  them,  but  I  cannot  describe  them.  Their  counsel  is 
foolish,  they  are  forgetful  of  love,  most  headstrong  in  their  desires, 
fond  of  folly,  prone  to  enter  rashly  into  engagements,  given  to 
swearing,  proud  to  be  asked  in  marriage,  tenacious  of  enmity,  cheer- 
less at  the  banquet,  rejectors  of  reconciliation,  prone  to  strife,  of 
much  garrulity.  Until  evil  be  good,  until  hell  be  heaven,  until  the  sun 
hide  his  light,  until  the  stars  of  heaven  fall,  women  will  remain  as  we 
have  stated.  Woe  to  him,  my  son,  who  desires  or  serves  a  bad 
woman,  woe  to  every  one  who  has  got  a  bad  wife ' "  ! 

This  Christian  allusion  to  heaven  and  hell,  and  some  others 
of  the  same  sort,  show  that  despite  a  considerable  pagan  flavour- 


250     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

ing  the  tract  cannot  be  entirely  the  work  of  King  Cormac, 
though  it  may  very  well  be  the  embodiment  and  extension  of  an 
ancient  pagan  discourse,  for,  as  we  have  seen,  after  Christianity 
had  succeeded  in  getting  the  upper  hand  over  paganism,  a  kind 
of  tacit  compromise  was  arrived  at,  by  means  of  which  the 
bards  and  files  and  other  representatives  of  the  old  pagan 
learning,  were  allowed  to  continue  to  propagate  their  stories, 
tales,  poems,  and  genealogies,  at  the  price  of  incorporating  with 
them  a  small  share  of  Christian  alloy,  or,  to  use  a  different 
simile,  just  as  the  vessels  of  some  feudatory  nations  are  compelled 
to  fly  at  the  mast-head  the  flag  of  the  suzerain  power.  But  so 
badly  has  the  dovetailing  of  the  Christian  and  the  pagan  parts 
been  managed  in  most  of  the  older  romances,  that  the  pieces 
come  away  quite  separate  in  the  hands  of  even  the  least  skilled 
analyser,  and  the  pagan  substratum  stands  forth  entirely  dis- 
tinct from  the  Christian  accretion. 


i 


CHAPTER  XX 


THE    SUGGESTIVELY    PAGAN     ELEMENT    IN     IRISH    LITERATURE 

IT  is  this  easy  analysis  of  early  Irish  literature  into  its  ante- 
Christian  and  its  post-Christian  elements,  which  lends  to  it  its 
absorbing  value  and  interest.  For  when  all  spurious  accretions 
have  been  stripped  off,  we  find  in  the  most  ancient  Irish  poems 
and  sagas,  a  genuine  picture  of  pagan  life  in  Europe,  such  as 
we  look  for  in  vain  elsewhere. 

"  The  Church,"  writes  Windisch,  "  adopted  towards  pagan  sagas, 
the  same  position  that  it  adopted  towards  pagan  law.  ...  I  see 
no  sufficient  ground  for  doubting  that  really  genuine  pictures  of 
a  pre-Christian  culture  are  preserved  to  us  in  the  individual  sagas, 
pictures  which  are  of  course  in  some  places  faded,  and  in  others 
painted  over  by  a  later  hand."  T 

Again  in  his  notes  on  the  story  of  Deirdre,  he  remarks — 

"  The  saga  originated  in  pagan,  and  was  propagated  in  Christian 
times,  and  that  too  without  its  seeking  fresh  nutriment  as  a  rule  from  ; 
Christian  elements.      But  we  must  ascribe  it  to  the  influence  of 
Christianity  that  what  is  specifically  pagan  in  Irish  saga  is  blurred 

1 "  Ich  sehe  daher  keinen  geniigenden  Grund  daran  zu  zweifeln  dass 
uns  in  den  Einzelsagen  wirklich  echte  Bilder  einer  vorchristtichen  Cultur 
erhalten  sind,  allerdings  Bilder  die  an  einigen  Stellen  verblasst,  an  andern 
von  spaterer  Hand  iibermalt  sind  "  ("  Irische  Texte,"  I.,  p.  253). 

251 


252      LITERARY  HISTORY   OF  IRELAND 

•over  and  forced  into  the  background.  And  yet  there  exist  many 
whose  contents  are  plainly  mythological.  The  Christian  monks  were 
certainly  not  the  first  who  reduced  the  ancient  sagas  to  fixed  form, 
but  later  on  they  copied  them  faithfully,  and  propagated  them  after 
Ireland  had  been  converted  to  Christianity." 

Zimmer  too  has  come  to  the  same  conclusion. 

"  Nothing,"  he  writes,  "  except  a  spurious  criticism  which  takes 
for  original  and  primitive  the  most  palpable  nonsense  of  which 
Middle-Irish  writers  from  the  twelfth  to  the  sixteenth  century  are 
guilty  with  regard  to  their  own  antiquity,  which  is  in  many  respects 
strange  and  foreign  to  them  :  nothing  but  such  a  criticism  can,  on 
the  other  hand,  make  the  attempt  to  doubt  of  the  historical  character 
of  the  chief  persons  of  the  Saga  cycles.1  For  we  believe  that  Meve, 
Conor  mac  Nessa,  Cuchulain,  and  Finn  mac  Cumhail,  are  exactly  as 
much  historical  personalities  as  Arminius,  or  Dietrich  of  Bern,  or 
Etzel,  and  their  date  is  just  as  well  determined  as  that  of  the  above- 
mentioned  heroes  and  kings,  who  are  glorified  in  song  by  the 
Germans,  even  though,  in  the  case  of  Irish  heroes  and  kings,  external 
witnesses  are  wanting.' " 

M.  d'Arbois  de  Jubainville  expresses  himself  in  like  terms. 
"  We  have  no  reason,"  he  writes,  "  to  doubt  of  the  reality  of 
the  principal  role  in  this  [cycle  of  Cuchulain]  ;  "2  and  of  the 
story  of  the  Boru  tribute  which  was  imposed  on  Leinster  about 
a  century  later  ;  he  writes,  "  Le  recit  a  pour  base  des  faits  reels, 
quoique  certains  details  aient  e"te  cr£es  par  Imagination  ; "  and 
again,  u  Irish  epic  story,  barbarous  though  it  is,  is,  like  Irish 
law,  a  monument  of  a  civilisation  far  superior  to  that  of  the 
most  ancient  Germans  ;  if  the  Roman  idea  ot  the  state  was 
wanting  to  that  civilisation,  and,  if  that  defect  in  it  was  a 
radical  flaw,  still  there  is  an  intellectual  culture  to  be  found 

1  "  Nur  eine  Afterkritik  die  den  handgreiflichsten  Unsinn  durch  den 
mittelirische  Schreiber  des  12-16  Jahrh.  sich  am  eigenem  Altherthum 
versiindigen  das  ihnen  in  mancher  Hinsicht  fremd  ist  fiir  urfangliche 
Weisheithalt,  nun  eine  solche  Kritik  kann,  umgekehrt  den  Versuch  machen 
an  dem  historischen  Character  der  Hauptperson  beider  Sagenkreise  zu 
zweifeln,"  etc.  ( "  Kelt-Studien,"  Heft.  II.,  p.  189). 

3  "  Introduction  a  1'etude  de  la  litterature  celtique,"  p.  217, 


PAGAN  ELEMENT  IN  IRISH  LITERA  TURE  253 

there,     far     more    developed     than    amongst     the    primitive 
Germans.' "  * 

"  Ireland,  in  fact,"  writes  M.  Darmesteter  in  his  "  English  Studies," 
well  summing  up  the  legitimate  conclusions  from  the  works  of  the 
great  Celtic  scholars,  "  has  the  peculiar  privilege  of  a  history  con- 
tinuous from  the  earliest  centuries  of  our  era  until  the  present  day. 
She  has  preserved  in  the  infinite  wealth  of  her  literature  a  complete 
and  faithful  picture  of  the  ancient  civilisation  of  the  Celts.  Irish 
literature  is  therefore  the  key  which  opens  the  Celtic  world." 

But  the  Celtic  world  means  a  large  portion  of  Europe,  and 
the  key  to  unlock  the  door  of  its  past  history  is  in  the  Irish 
manuscripts  of  saga  and  poenic  Without  them  the  student 
would  have  to  view  the  past  history  of  Europe  through  the  dis- 
torting glasses  of  the  Greeks  and  Romans,  to  whom  all  outer 
nations  were  barbarians,  into  whose  social  life  they  had  no 
motive  for  inquiring.  He  would  have  no  other  means  of 
estimating  what  were  the  feelings,  modes  of  life,  manners,  and 
habits,  of  those  great  races  who  possessed  so  large  a  part  of  the 
ancient  world,  Gaul,  Belgium,  North  Italy,  parts  of  Germany, 
Spain,  Switzerland,  and  the  British  Isles  ;  who  burned  Rome, 
plundered  Greece,  and  colonised  Asia  Minor.  But  in  the 
Irish  romances  and  historical  sagas,  he  sees  come  to  light 
another  standard  by  which  to  measure.  Through  this  early 
Irish  peep-hole  he  gets  a  clear  look  at  the  life  and  manners 
of  the  race  in  one  of  its  strongholds,  from  which  he  may 
conjecture  and  even  assume  a  good  deal  with  regard  to 
the  others. 

That  the  pictures  of  social  life  and  early  society  drawn  in 
the  Irish  romances  represent  phases  not  common  to  the 
Irish  alone,  but  to  large  portions  of  that  Celtic  race  which 
once  owned  so  much  of  Europe,  may  be  surmised  with  some 
certainty  from  the  way  in  which  characteristics  of  the  Celts 
barely  mentioned  by  Greek  and  Roman  writers  re-appear 
amongst  the  Irish  in  all  the  intimate  detail  and  fond  expansion 
1  Preface  to  "  L'Epopee  Celtique  en  Irlande." 


254     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

of  romance.     M.  d'Arbois  de  Jubainville  has  drawn  attention 
to  many  such  instances. 

Posidonius,  who  was  a  friend  of  Cicero,  and  wrote  about  a 
hundred  years  before  Christ,  mentions  a  custom  which  existed 
in  Gaul  in  his  time  of  fighting  at  a  feast  for  the  best  bit  which 
was  to  be  given  to  the  most  valiant  warrior.  This  custom, 
briefly  noticed  by  Posidonius,  might  be  passed  by  unnoticed  by 
the  ordinary  reader,  but  the  Irish  one  will  remember  the  early 
romances  of  his  race  in  which  the  curadh-mir  or  "  heroes  bit " 
so  largely  figures.  He  will  remember  that  it  is  upon  this 
custom  that  one  of  the  greatest  sagas  of  the  Cuchulain  cycle, 
the  feast  of  Bricriu,  hinges.  Bricriu,  the  Thersites  of  the 
Red  Branch,  having  built  a  new  and  magnificent  house, 
determines  to  invite  King  Conor  and  the  other  chieftains  to 
a  feast,  for  the  house  was  very  magnificent. 

"  The  dining  hall  was  built  like  that  of  the  High-king  at  Tara. 
From  the  hearth  to  the  wall  were  nine  beds,  and  each  of  the  side 
walls  was  thirty-five  feet  high  and  covered  with  ornaments  of  gilt 
bronze.  Against  one  of  the  side  walls  of  that  palace  was  reared  a 
royal  bed  destined  for  Conor,1  king  of  Ulster,  which  looked  down 
upon  all  the  others.  It  was  ornamented  with  carbuncles  and  pre- 
cious stones  and  other  gems  of  great  price.  The  gold  and  silver  and 
all  sorts  of  jewellery  which  covered  that  bed  shone  with  such  splen- 
dour that  the  night  was  as  brilliant  as  the  day." 

He  had  prepared  a  magnificent  curadh-mir  for  the  feast, 
consisting  of  a  seven-year  old  pig,  and  a  seven-year  old  cow 
that  had  been  fed  on  milk  and  corn  and  the  finest  food  since  their 
birth,  a  hundred  cakes  of  corn  cooked  with  honey — and  every 

1  This  name  is  written  Concobar  in  the  ancient  texts,  and  Conchiibhair  in 
the  modern  language,  pronounced  Cun-hoo-ar  or  Cun-hoor,  whence  the 
Anglicised  form  Conor.  The  "  b  "  was  in  early  times  pronounced,  but  there 
are  traces  of  its  being  dropped  as  early  as  the  twelfth  century,  though  with 
that  orthographical  conservatism  which  so  distinguishes  the  Irish  lan- 
guage, it  has  been  preserved  down  to  the  present  day.  Zimmer  says  he 
found  it  spelt  Conchor  in  the  twelfth-century  book  the  Liber  Landavensis. 
From  this  the  form  Crochor  ("  cr  "  for  "  en  "  as  is  usual  in  Connacht)  fol- 
lowed, and  the  name  is  now  pronounced  either  Cun-a-char  or  Cruch-oor. 


PAGAN  ELEMENT  IN  IRISH  LITERATURE  255 

four  cakes  took  a  sack  of  corn  to  make  them — and  a  vat  of 
wine  large  enough  to  hold  three  of  the  warriors  of  the 
Ultonians.  This  magnificent  "  heroes'  bit "  he  secretly  pro- 
mises to  each  of  three  warriors  in  turn,  Laeghaire  [Leary], 
Conall  Cearnach,  and  Cuchulain,  hoping  to  excite  a  quarrel 
among  them.  On  the  result  of  his  expedient  the  saga 
turns. I 

Again,  Caesar  tells  us  that  when  he  invaded  the  Gauls  they 
did  not  fight  any  longer  in  chariots,  but  it  is  recorded  that  they 
did  so  fight  two  hundred  years  before  his  time,  even  as  the  Persians 
fought  against  the  Greeks,  and  as  the  Greeks  themselves  must 
have  fought  in  a  still  earlier  age  commemorated  by  Homer.  But 
in  the  Irish  sagas  we  find  this  epic  mode  of  warfare  in  full  force. 
Every  great  man  has  his  charioteer,  they  fight  from  their  cars 
as  in  Homeric  days,  and  much  is  told  us  of  both  steed,  chariot 
and  driver.  In  the  above-mentioned  saga  of  Bricriu's  feast  it 
is  the  charioteers  of  the  three  warriors  who  claim  the  heroes' 
bit  for  their  masters,  since  they  are  apparently  ashamed  to  make 
the  first  move  themselves.  The  charioteer  was  more  than  a 
mere  servant.  Cuchulain  sometimes  calls  his  charioteer  friend 
or  master  (popa),  and  on  the  occasion  of  his  fight  with  Ferdiad 
desires  him  in  case  he  (Cuchulain)  should  show  signs  of 
yielding,  to  "  excite  reproach  and  speak  evil  to  me  so  that  the 
ire  of  my  rage  and  anger  should  grow  the  more  on  me,  but  if 
he  give  ground  before  me  thou  shalt  laud  me  and  praise  me  and 
speak  good  words  to  me  that  my  courage  may  be  the  greater," 
and  this  command  his  friend  and  charioteer  punctually 
executes. 

The    chariot    itself    is    in     many    places    graphically    de- 

1  The  reminiscence  of  the  hero-bit  appears  to  have  lingered  on  in  folk 
memory.  A  correspondent,  Mr.  Terence  Kelly,  from  near  Omagh,  in  the 
county  Tyrone,  tells  me  that  he  often  heard  a  story  told  by  an  old 
shanachie  and  herb-doctor  in  that  neighbourhood  who  spoke  a  half-Scotch 
dialect  of  English,  in  which  the  hero-bit  figured,  but  it  had  fallen  in 
magnificence,  and  was  represented  as  bannocks  and  butter  with  some 
minor  delicacies. 


256      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

scribed.      Here   is    how    its   approach    is   pourtrayed    in    the 
Tain- 

"  It  was  not  long,"  says  the  chronicler,  "  until  Ferdiad's  charioteer 
heard  the  noise  approaching,  the  clamour  and  the  rattle,  and  the 
whistling,  and  the  tramp,  and  the  thunder,  and  the  clatter  and  the 
roar,  namely  the  shield-noise  of  the  light  shields,  and  the  hissing  of 
the  spears,  and  the  loud  clangour  of  the  swords,  and  the  tinkling  of 
the  helmet,  and  the  ringing  of  the  armour,  and  the  friction  of  the 
arms  ;  the  dangling  of  the  missive  weapons,  the  straining  of  the 
ropes,  and  the  loud  clattering  of  the  wheels,  and  the  creaking  of  the 
chariot,  and  the  trampling  of  the  horses,  and  the  triumphant  advance 
of  the  champion  and  the  warrior  towards  the  ford  approaching  him." 

In  the  romance  called  the  "  Intoxication  of  the  Ultonians," 
it  is  mentioned  that  they  drave  so  fast  in  the  wake  of  Cuchu- 
lain,  that  "  the  iron  wheels  of  the  chariots  cut  the  roots  of  the 
immense  trees."  Here  is  how  the  romancist  describes  the 
advance  of  such  a  body  upon  Tara-Luachra. 

"  Not  long  were  they  there,  the  two  watchers  and  the  two  druids, 
until  a  full  fierce  rush  of  the  first  band  broke  hither  past  the  glen. 
Such  was  the  fury  with  which  they  advanced  that  there  was  not  left 
a  spear  on  a  rack,  nor  a  shield  on  a  spike,  nor  a  sword  in  an  armoury 
in  Tara-Luachra  that  did  not  fall  down.  From  every  house  on  which 
was  thatch  in  Tara-Luachra  it  fell  in  immense  flakes.  One  would 
think  that  it  was  the  sea  that  had  come  over  the  walls  and  over  the 
corners  of  the  world  upon  them.  The  forms  of  countenances  were 
changed,  and  there  was  chattering  of  teeth  in  Tara-Luachra  within. 
The  two  druids  fell  in  fits  and  in  faintings  and  in  paroxysms,  one  of 
them  out  over  the  wall  and  the  other  over  the  wall  inside." 

On  another  occasion  the  approach  of  Cuchulain's  chariot  is 
thus  described — 

"Like  a  mering  were  the  two  dykes  which  the  iron  wheels  of 
Cuchulain's  chariot  made  on  that  day  of  the  sides  of  the  road.  Like 
flocks  of  dark  birds  pouring  over  a  vast  plain  were  the  blocks  and 
round  sods  and  turves  of  the  earth  which  the  horses  would  cast  away 
behind  them  against  the  ...  of  the  wind.  Like  a  flock  of  swans 
pouring  over  a  vast  plain  was  the  foam  which  they  flung  before  them 
over  the  muzzles  of  their  bridles.  Like  the  smoke  from  a  roval 


PAGAN  ELEMENT  IN  IRISH  LITERA  TURE  257 

hostel  was  the  dust  and  breath  of  the  dense  vapour,  because  of  the 
vehemence  of  the  driving  which  Liag,  son  of  Riangabhra,  on  that 
day  gave  to  the  two  steeds  of  Cuchulain." x 

Elsewhere  the  chariot  itself  is  described  as  "  wythe-wickered, 
two  bright  bronze  wheels,  a  white  pole  of  bright  silver  with  a 
veining  of  white  bronze,  a  very  high  creaking  body,  having  its 
firm  sloping  sides  ornamented  with  cred  (tin  ? ),  a  back-arched 
rich  golden  yoke,  two  rich  yellow-peaked  alls,  hardened  sword- 
straight  axle-spindles."  Laeghaire's  chariot  is  described  in 
another  piece  as  "  a  chariot  wythe-wickered,  two  firm  black 
wheels,  two  pliant  beautiful  reins,  hardened  sword-straight 
axle-spindles,  a  new  fresh-polished  body,  a  back-arched  rich 
silver-mounted  yoke,  two  rich-yellow  peaked  alls  ...  a  bird 
plume  of  the  usual  feathers  over  the  body  of  the  chariot."  2 

Descriptions  like  these  are  constantly  occurring  in  the  Irish 
tales,  and  enable  us  to  realise  better  the  heroic  period  of  warfare 
and  to  fill  up  in  our  imagination  many  a  long-regretted  lacuna 
in  our  knowledge  of  primitive  Europe. 

"  Those  philosophers,"  says  Diodorus  Siculus,  a  Greek  writer  of 
the  Augustan  age,  speaking  of  the  Druids,  "like  the  lyric  poets 
called  bards,  have  a  great  authority  both  in  affairs  of  peace  and  war, 
friends  and  enemies  listen  to  them.  Also  when  the  two  armies  are 
in  presence  of  one  another  and  swords  drawn  and  spears  couched, 
they  throw  themselves  into  the  midst  of  the  combatants  and  appease 
them  as  though  they  were  charming  wild  beasts.  Thus  even 
amongst  the  most  savage  barbarians  anger  submits  to  the  rule  of 
wisdom,  and  the  god  of  war  pays  homage  to  the  Muses." 

To  show  that  the  manners  and  customs  of  the  Keltoi  or  Celts 
of  whom  Diodorus  speaks  were  in  this  respect  identical  with 
those  of  their  Irish  cousins  (or  brothers),  and  to  give  another 
instance  of  the  warm  light  shed  by  Irish  literature  upon  the 
early  customs  of  Western  Europe  I  shall  convert  the  abstract 

1  See  "Revue  Celtique,"  vol.  xiv.  p.  417,  translated  by  Whitley  Stokes. 
8  Leabhar    na    h-Uidhre,    p.    122,    col.    2,     translated    by    Sullivan, 
"  Manners  and  Customs,"  vol.  i.  p.  cccclxxviii, 

R 


258      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

into  the  concrete  by  a  page  or  two  from  an  Irish  romance,  not 
an  old  one,1  but  one  which  no  doubt  preserves  many  original 
traditionary  traits.  In  this  story  Finn  mac  Cumhail  or  Cool  2 
at  a  great  feast  in  his  fort  at  Allen  asks  Goll  about  some  tribute 
which  he  claimed,  and  is  dissatisfied  at  the  answer  of  Goll,  who 
may  be  called  the  Ajax  of  the  Fenians.  After  that  there  arose 
a  quarrel  at  the  feast,  the  rise  of  which  is  thus  graphically 
pourtrayed — 

" '  Goll,'  said  Finn,  '  you  have  acknowledged  in  that  speech  that 
you  came  from  the  city  of  Beirbhe  to  the  battle  of  Cnoca,  and  that 
you  slew  my  father  there,  and  it  is  a  bold  and  disobedient  thing  of 
you  to  tell  me  that/  said  Finn. 

" '  By  my  hand,  O  Finn,'  said  Goll,  '  if  you  were  to  dishonour  me 
as  your  father  did,  I  would  give  you  the  same  payment  that  I  gave 
Cool.' 

" '  Goll,'  said  Finn,  '  I  would  be  well  able  not  to  let  that  word  pass 
with  you,  for  I  have  a  hundred  valiant  warriors  in  my  following  for 
every  one  that  is  in  yours.' 

" '  Your  father  had  that  also,'  said  Goll,  '  and  yet  I  avenged  my 
dishonour  on  him,  and  I  would  do  the  same  to  you  if  you  were  to 
deserve  it  of  me.' 

"  White-skinned  Carroll  O  Baoisgne3  spake,  and  't  is  what  he  said  : 
'  O  Goll,'  said  he,  '  there  is  many  a  man,'  said  he,  '  to  silence  you  and 
your  people  in  the  household  of  Finn  mac  Cumhail.' 

"  Bald  cursing  Conan  mac  Morna  spake,  and  't  is  what  he  said,  '  I 
swear  by  my  arms  of  valour/  said  he,  '  that  Goll,  the  day  he  has  least 
men,  has  a  man  and  a  hundred  in  his  household,  and  not  a  man  of 
them  but  would  silence  you.' 

" '  Are  you  one  of  those,  perverse,  bald-headed  Conan  ? '  said 
Carroll. 

" '  I  am  one  of  them,  black-visaged,  nail-torn,  skin-scratched,  little- 
strength  Carroll/  says  Conan,  '  and  I  would  soon  prove  it  to  you  that 
Cumhail  was  in  the  wrong.' 


1  In  Irish  Fionn  mac  Cumhail,  pronounced  "  Finn  (or  Fewn  in  Mun- 
ster),  mac  Coo-wil  "  or  "  Cool." 

2  I  translated   this  from    manuscript  in  my  possession  made  by  one 
Patrick  O'Pronty  (an  ancestor,  I  think,  of  Charlotte  Bronte)  in  1763.    Mr. 
Standish  Hayes  O'Grady  has  since  published  a  somewhat  different  text  of  it. 

3  Pronounced  "  Bweesg-na,"  the  triphthong  aoi  is  always  pronounced 
like  ee  in  Irish. 


PAGAN  ELEMENT  IN  IRISH  LITERATURE  259 

"  It  was  then  that  Carroll  arose,  and  he  struck  a  daring  fist,  quick 
and  ready,  upon  Conan,  and  there  was  no  submission  in  Conan's 
answer,  for  he  struck  the  second  fist  on  Carroll  in  the  middle  of  his 
face  and  his  teeth." 

Upon  this  the  chronicler  relates  how  first  one  joined  in  and 
then  another,  until  at  last  all  the  adherents  of  Goll  and  Finn 
and  even  the  captains  themselves  are  hard  at  work.  u  After 
that,"  he  adds,  "  bad  was  the  place  for  a  mild,  smooth-fingered 
woman  or  a  weak  or  infirm  person,  or  an  aged,  long-lived 
elder."  This  terrific  fight  continued  "from  the  beginning  of 
the  night  till  the  rising  of  the  sun  in  the  morning,"  and  was 
only  stopped — just  as  Diodorus  says  battles  were  stopped — by 
the  intervention  of  the  bards. 

"It  was  then,"  says  the  romancist,  " that  the  prophesying  poet  of 
the  pointed  words,  that  guerdon-full  good  man  of  song,  Fergus 
Finnbheoil,  rose  up,  and  all  the  Fenians'  men  of  science  along  with 
him,  and  they  sang  their  hymns  and  good  poems,  and  their  perfect 
lays  to  those  heroes  to  silence  and  to  soften  them.  It  was  then  they 
ceased  from  their  slaughtering  and  maiming,  on  hearing  the  music 
of  the  poets,  and  they  let  their  weapons  fall  to  earth,  and  the  poets 
took  up  their  weapons  and  they  went  between  them,  and  grasped 
them  with  the  grasp  of  reconciliation." 

When  the  palace  was  cleared  out  it  was  found  that  1,100  of 
Finn's  people  had  been  killed  between  men  and  women,  and 
eleven  men  and  fifty  women  of  GolPs  party. 

Caesar  speaks  of  the  numbers  who  frequented  the  schools  of 
the  druids  in  Gaul ;  "  it  is  said,"  he  adds,  "  that  they  learn 
there  a  great  number  of  verses,  and  that  is  why  some  of  those 
pupils  spend  twenty  years  in  learning.  It  is  not,  according  to 
the  druids,  permissible  to  entrust  verses  to  writing  although 
they  use  the  Greek  alphabet  in  all  other  affairs  public  and 
private."  Of  this  prohibition  to  commit  their  verses  to  paper, 
we  have  no  trace,  so  far  as  I  know,  in  our  literature,  but  the 
accounts  of  the  early  bardic  schools  entirely  bear  out  the 
description  here  given  of  them  by  Caesar,  and  again  shows  the 
solidarity  of  custom  which  seems  to  have  existed  between  the 


260      LITERARY  HISTORY   OF  IRELAND 

various  Celtic  tribes.  According  to  our  early  manuscripts  it 
took  from  nine  to  twelve  years  for  a  student  to  take  the 
highest  degree  at  the  bardic  schools,  and  in  many  cases  where 
the  pupil  failed  to  master  sufficiently  the  subjects  of  the  year, 
he  had  probably  to  spend  two  over  it,  so  that  it  is  quite  possible 
that  some  might  spend  twenty  years  over  their  learning.  And 
much  of  this  learning  was,  as  Caesar  notes,  in  verse.  Many 
earlier  law  tracts  appear  to  have  been  so,  and  even  many  of  the 
earliest  romances.  There  is  a  very  interesting  account  extant 
called  the  "  Proceedings  of  the  Great  Bardic  Association," 
which  leads  up  to  the  Epic  of  the  Tain  Bo  Chuailgne,  the 
greatest  of  the  Irish  romances,  according  to  which  this  great 
tale  was  at  one  time  lost,  and  the  great  Bardic  Institution  was 
commanded  to  hunt  for  and  recover  it.  The  fact  of  it  being 
said  that  the  perfect  tale  was  lost  for  ever  "  and  that  only  a 
fragmentary  and  broken  form  of  it  would  go  down  to  posterity  " 
perhaps  indicates,  as  has  been  pointed  out  by  Sullivan,  "  that 
the  filling  up  the  gaps  in  the  poem  by  prose  narrative  is 
meant."  In  point  of  fact  the  tale,  as  we  have  it  now,  consists 
half  of  verse  and  half  of  prose.  Nor  is  this  peculiar  to  the 
Tain.  Most  of  the  oldest  and  many  of  the  modern  tales  are 
composed  in  this  way.  In  most  cases  the  verse  is  of  a  more 
archaic  character  and  more  difficult  than  the  prose.  In  very 
many  an  expanded  prose  narrative  of  several  pages  is  followed 
by  a  more  condensed  poem  saying  the  same  thing.  So  much 
did  the  Irish  at  last  come  to  look  upon  it  as  a  matter  of  course 
that  every  romance  should  be  interspersed  with  poetry,  that 
even  writers  of  the  seventeenth  and  eighteenth  centuries 
who  consciously  invented  their  stories  as  a  modern  novelist 
invents  his,  have  interspersed  their  pieces  with  passages,  in 
verse,  as  did  Comyn  in  his  Turlough  mac  Stairn,  as  did  the 
author  of  the  Son  of  Ill-counsel,  the  author  of  the  Parliament  of 
.Clan  Lopus,  the  author  of  the  Women's  Parliament,  and  others. 
/We  may  take  it,  then,  that  in  the  earliest  days  the  romances 
» were  composed  in  verse  and  learned  by  heart  by  the  students 


PAGAN  ELEMENT  IN  IRISH  LITER  A  TURE  261 

— possibly  before  any  alphabet  was  known  at  all ;  afterwards  > 
when  lacunas  occurred  through  defective  memory  on  the  part 
of  the  reciter  he  filled  up  the  gaps  with  prose.  Those  who 
committed  to  paper  our  earliest  tales  wrote  down  as  much  of 
the  old  poetry  as  they  could  recollect  or  had  access  to,  and 
wrote  the  connecting  narrative  in  prose.  Hence  it  soon  came 
to  pass  that  if  a  story  pretended  to  any  antiquity  it  had  to  be 
interspersed  with  verses,  and  at  last  it  happened  that  the  Irish 
taste  became  so  confirmed  to  this  style  of  writing  that  authors 
adopted  it,  as  I  have  said,  even  in  the  seventeenth  and  eigh- 
teenth centuries. 

In  spite  of  the  mythological  and  phantastic  elements  which 
are  undoubtedly  mingled  with  the  oldest  sagas, 

"the  manners  and  customs  in  which  the  men  of  the  time  lived 
and  moved,  are  depicted,"  writes  Windisch,1  "  with  a  naive  realism 
which  leaves  no  room  for  doubt  as  to  the  former  actuality  of  the 
scenes  depicted.  In  matter  of  costume  and  weapons,  eating  and 
drinking,  building  and  arrangement  of  the  banqueting-hall,  manners 
observed  at  the  feast,  and  much  more,  we  find  here  the  most  valuable 
information."  "  I  insist  upon  it,"  he  says  in  another  place,  "  that 
Irish  saga  is  the  only  richly-flowing  source  of  unbroken  Celtism." 

All  the  remaining  linguistic  monuments  of  Breton,  Cornish, 
and  Welsh,  "  would  form,"  writes  M.  d'Arbois  de  Jubainville, 

"  un  ensemble  bien  incomplet  et  bien  obscur  sans  la  lumiere  que 
la  litterature  irlandaise  projette  sur  ces  debris.  C'est  le  vieil  irlandais 
qui  forme  le  trait  d'union  pour  ainsi  dire  entre  les  dialectes  neo- 
celtiques  de  la  fin  du  moyen  age  ou  des  temps  modernes,  et  le 
Gaulois  des  inscriptions  lapidaires,  des  monnaies,  des  noms  propres 
conserves  par  la  litterature  grecque  et  la  litterature  romaine.'' a 

It  may,  then,  be  finally  acknowledged  that  those  of  the  great  / 
nations   of  to-day,  whose  ancestors   were    mostly  Celts,  but/ 
whose  language,  literature,  and  traditions  have  completely  dis- 
appeared, must,  if  they  wish   to  study  their  own   past,  turn 

1  "  Irische  Texte,"  I.,  p.  252. 

2  "  Etudes  grammaticales  sur  les  langues  Celtiques,"  1881,  p.  vii. 


262      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

themselves  first  to  Ireland.  When  we  find  so  much  of  the 
brief  and  scanty  information  given  us  by  the  classics,  not  only 
borne  out,  but  amply  illustrated  by  old  Irish  literature,  when 
we  find  the  dry  bones  of  Posidonius  and  Caesar  rise  up  again 
before  us  with  a  ruddy  covering  of  flesh  and  blood,  it  is  not 
too  much  to  surmise  that  in  other  matters  also  the  various 
Celtic  races  bore  to  each  other  a  close  resemblance. 

Much  more  could  be  said  upon  this  subject,  as  that  the  four 
Gallo-Roman  inscriptions  to  Brigantia  found  in  Great  Britain 
are  really  to  the  Goddess  Brigit;1  that  the  Brennus  who 
burned  Rome  390  years  before  Christ  and  the  Brennus  who 
stormed  Delphi  no  years  later  were  only  the  god  Brian, 
under  whose  tutelage  the  Gauls  marched  ;  and  that  Lugu- 
dunum,  Lugh's  Dun  or  fortress,  is  so-called  from  the  god 
Lugh  the  Long-handed,  to  whom  two  Celtic  inscriptions  are 
found,  one  in  Spain  and  one  in  Switzerland,  as  may  be  seen 
set  forth  at  length  in  the  volumes  of  Monsieur  d'Arbois  de 
Jubainville. 

1  See  above  pp.  53  and  161. 


CHAPTER  XXI 

THE    OLDEST    BOOKS    AND    POEMS 

THE  books  of  saga,  poetry,  and  annals  that  have  come  down  to 
our  day,  though  so  vastly  more  ancient  and  numerous  than 
anything  that  the  rest  of  Western  Europe  has  to  show,  are 
yet  an  almost  inappreciable  fragment  of  the  literature  that  at 
one  time  existed  in  Ireland.  The  great  native  scholar  O'Curry, 
who  possessed  a  unique  and  unrivalled  knowledge  of  Irish 
literature  in  all  its  forms,  has  drawn  up  a  list  of  lost  books 
which  may  be  supposed  to  have  contained  our  earliest  litera- 
ture. 

We  find  the  poet  Senchan  Torpeist — according  to  the 
account  in  the  Book  of  Leinster,  a  manuscript  which  dates 
from  about  the  year  1150 — complaining  that  the  only  per- 
fect record  of  the  great  Irish  epic,  the  Tain  Bo  Chuailgne  T  or 
Cattle-spoil  of  Cooley,  had  been  taken  to  the  East  with  the 
Cuilmenn,2  or  Great  Skin  Book.  Now  Zimmer,  who  made 
a  special  and  minute  study  of  this  story,  considers  that  the! 
earliest  redaction  of  the  Tain  dates  from  the  seventh  century.' 

1  Pronounced  "Taun  Bo  Hoo-il-n'ya."    The  "a"  in  Tain  is  pronounced 
nearly  like  the  "  a  "  in  the  English  word  "  Tarn." 

2  Cuilmenn — it  has  been  remarked,  I  think,  by  Kuno  Meyer — seems 
cognate  with  Colmmene,  glossed  nervus,  and  Welsh  cwlm,  "a  knot  or 
tie."    It  is  found  glossed  lebar—i^  leabhar,  or  "  book." 


264     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

This  legend  about  Senchan — a  real  historical  poet  whose 
eulogy  in  praise  of  Columcille,  whether  genuine  or  not, 
was  widely  popular — is  probably  equally  old,  and  points  to 
the  early  existence  of  a  great  skin  book  in  which  pagan 
tales  were  written,  but  which  was  then  lost.  The  next 
great  book  is  the  celebrated  Saltair  of  Tara,  which  is  alluded 
to  in  a  genuine  poem  of  Cuan  O'Lochain  about  the  year 
1000,  in  which  he  says  that  Cormac  mac  Art  drew  up  the 
Saltair  of  Tara.  Cormac,  being  a  pagan,  could  not  have 
called  the  book  a  Saltair  or  Psalterium,  but  it  may  have  got  the 
name  in  later  times  from  its  being  in  metre.  All  that  this 
really  proves,  however,  is  that  there  then  existed  a  book  about 
the  prerogatives  of  Tara  and  the  provincial  kings  so  old  that 
Cuan  O'Lochain — no  doubt  following  tradition — was  not 
afraid  to  ascribe  it  to  Cormac  mac  Art  who  lived  in  the  third 
century.  The  next  lost  book  is  called  the  Book  of  the 
Uacongbhail,  upon  which  both  the  O'Clerys  in  their  Book 
of  Invasions  and  Keating  in  his  history  drew,  and  which, 
according  to  O'Curry,  still  existed  at  Kildare  so  late  as  1626. 
The  next  book  is  called  the  Cin  of  Drom  Snechta.  It  is 
quoted  in  the  Leabhar  na  h-Uidhre,  or  "  Book  of  the  Dun 
Cow" — a  MS.  of  about  the  year  noo — and  often  in  the  Book 
of  Ballymote  and  by  Keating,  who  in  quoting  it  says,  "  And 
it  was  before  the  coming  of  Patrick  to  Ireland  that  that  book 
existed," *  and  the  Book  of  Leinster  ascribes  it  to  the  son 
of  a  king  of  Connacht  who  died  either  in  379  or  499.  The 
next  books  of  which  we  find  mention  were  said  to  have 
belonged  to  St.  Longarad,  a  contemporary  of  St.  Columcille. 
The  scribe  who  wrote  the  glosses  on  the  Fe"ilire  of  Angus  the 
Culdee,  said  that  the  books  existed  still  in  his  day,  but  that 
nobody  could  read  them  ;  for  which  he  accounts  by  the  tale 
that  Columcille  once  paid  Longarad  a  visit  in  order  to  see  his 
books,  but  that  his  host  refused  to  show  them,  and  that  Colum- 
cille then  said,  "  May  your  books  be  of  no  use  after  you,  since 
1  For  the  authorship  of  this  book  see  above,  p.  71. 


THE  OLDEST  BOOKS  AND  POEMS  265 

you  have  exercised  inhospitality  about  them."  On  account  of 
this  the  books  became  illegible  after  Longarad's  death.  Angus 
the  Culdee  lived  about  the  year  800,  but  Stokes  ascribes  the 
Feilire  to  the  tenth  century  ;  a  view,  however,  which  Mr. 
Strachan's  studies  on  the  Irish  deponent  verb,  which  is  of  such 
frequent  occurrence  in  the  Feilire,  may  perhaps  modify.  At 
what  time  the  scholiast  wrote  his  note  on  the  text  is  uncertain, 
but  it  also  is  very  old.  It  is  plain,  then,  that  at  this  time  a 
number  of  illegible  books — illegible  no  doubt  from  age — existed ; 
and  to  account  for  this  illegibility  the  story  of  Columcille's 
curse  was  invented.  The  Annals  of  Ulster  quote  another 
book  at  the  year  527  under  the  name  of  the  Book  of  St. 
Mochta,  who  was  a  disciple  of  St.  Patrick.  They  also  quote 
the  Book  of  Guana  at  the  year  468  and  repeatedly  afterwards 
down  to  the  year  610,  while  they  record  the  death  of  Cuana, 
a  scribe,  at  the  year  738,  after  which  no  more  quotations  from 
Guana's  book  occur. 

The  following  volumes,  almost  all  of  which  existed  prior  to 
the  year  noo,  are  also  alluded  to  in  our  old  literature  : — The 
Book  of  Dubhdaleithe  ;  the  Yellow  Book  of  Slane  ;  the  original 
Leabhar  na  h-Uidhre,  or  "  Book  of  the  Dun  Cow  "  ;  the  Books 
of  Eochaidh  O'Flanagain  ;  a  certain  volume  known  as  the 
book  eaten  by  the  poor  people  in  the  desert  ;  the  Book  of  Inis 
an  Duin  ;  the  short  Book  of  Monasterboice  ;  the  Books  of 
Flann  of  Monasterboice  ;  the  Book  of  Flann  of  Dungiven  ; 
the  Book  of  Downpatrick  ;  the  Book  of  Derry  ;  the  Book  of 
Sabhal  Patrick  ;  the  Black  Book  of  St.  Molaga  ;  the  Yellow 
Book  of  St.  Moiling  ;  the  Yellow  Book  of  Mac  Murrough  ; 
the  Book  of  Armagh  (not  the  one  now  so  called)  ;  the  Red 
Book  of  Mac  Egan  ;  the  Long  Book  of  Leithlin  ;  the  Books 
of  O'Scoba  of  Clonmacnois  ;  the  "  Duil "  of  Drom  Ceat  ;  the 
Book  of  Clonsost  ;  the  Book  of  Cluain  Eidhneach  (the  ivy 
meadow)  in  Leix  ;  and  one  of  the  most  valuable  and  often 
quoted  of  all,  Cormac's  great  Saltair  of  Cashel,  compiled  by 
Cormac  mac  Culinan,  who  was  at  once  king  of  Munster 


266      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

and  archbishop  of  Cashel,1  and  who  fell  in  battle  in  903, 
according  to  the  chronology  of  the  "Four  Masters."  The 
above  are  certainly  only  a  few  of  the  books  in  which  a  large 
early  literature  was  contained,  one  that  has  now  perished 
almost  to  a  page.  Michael  O'Clery,  in  the  Preface  to  his 
Book  of  Invasions  written  in  1631,  mentions  the  books 
from  which  he  and  his  four  antiquarian  friends  compiled  their 
work — mostly  now  perished  ! — and  adds  : — 

"  The  histories  and  synchronisms  of  Erin  were  written  and  tested 
in  the  presence  of  those  illustrious  saints,  as  is  manifest  in  the  great 
books  that  are  named  after  the  saints  themselves  and  from  their 
great  churches ;  for  there  was  not  an  illustrious  church  in  Erin  that 
had  not  a  great  book  of  history  named  from  it  or  from  the  saints  who 
sanctified  it.  It  would  be  easy,  too,  to  know  from  the  books  which 
the  saints  wrote,  and  the  songs  of  praise  which  they  composed  in 
Irish  that  they  themselves  and  their  churches  were  the  centres  of 
the  true  knowledge,  and  the  archives  and  homes  of  the  manuscripts 
of  the  authors  of  Erin  in  the  elder  times.  But,  alas  !  short  was  the 
time  until  dispersion  and  decay  overtook  the  churches  of  the  saints, 


1  "  At  what  time  this  book  was  lost,"  says  O'Curry,  "  we  have  no  precise 
knowledge,  but  that  it  existed,  though  in  a  dilapidated  state,  in  the  year 
1454  is  evident  from  the  fact  that  there  is  in  the  Bodleian  Library  at 
Oxford  (Laud  610)  a  copy  of  such  portions  of  it  as  could  be  deciphered  at 
that  time,  made  by  Shawn  O'Clery  for  Mac  Richard  Butler.  From  the 
contents  of  this  copy  and  from  the  frequent  references  to  the  original  for 
history  and  genealogies  found  in  the  Books  of  Ballymote,  Lecan,  and 
others,  it  must  have  been  an  historical  and  genealogical  compilation  of 
large  size  and  great  diversity." 

A  legible  copy  of  the  Saltair  appears,  however,  to  have  existed  at 
a  much  later  date.  I  discovered  a  curious  poem  in  an  uncatalogued  MS. 
in  the  Royal  Irish  Academy  by  one  David  Condon,  written  apparently  at 
some  time  between  the  Cromwellian  and  Williamite  wars,  in  which  he 
says — 

"  Saltair  Chaisill  is  dearbh  gur  leigheas-sa 
Leabhar  ghleanna-da-locha  gan  go  ba  leir  dam, 
Leabhar  Buidhe  Mhuigleann  (?)  obair  aosta,"  &c. 

I.e.,  "  Surely  I  have  read  the  Saltair  of  Cashel,  and  the  Book  of  Glendaloch 
was  certainly  plain  to  me,  and  the  Yellow  Book  of  Mulling  (?)  (see  above, 
p.  210),  an  ancient  work,  the  Book  of  Molaga,  and  the  lessons  of  Cionn- 
faola,  and  many  more  (books)  along  with  them  which  are  not  (now)  found 
in  Ireland." 


THE  OLDEST  BOOKS  AND  POEMS     267 

their  relics,  and  their  books  ;  for  there  is  not  to  be  found  of  them 
now  [1631]  but  a  small  remnant  that  has  not  been  carried  away  into 
distant  countries  and  foreign  nations — carried  away  so  that  their 
fate  is  unknown  from  that  time  unto  this." 

As  far  as  actual  existing  documents  go,  we  have  no  speci- 
mens of  Irish  MSS.  written  in  Irish  before  the  eighth  century. 
The  chief  remains  of  the  old  language  that  we  have  are  mostly 
found  on  the  Continent,  whither  the  Irish  carried  their  books 
in  great  numbers,  and  unfortunately  they  are  not  books  of 
saga,  but  chiefly,  with  the  exception  of  a  few  poems,  glosses 
and  explanations  of  books  used  evidently  in  the  Irish  ecclesias- 
tical schools.1  A  list  of  the  most  remarkable  is  worth  giving 
here,  as  it  will  help  to  show  the  extraordinary  geographical 
diversity  of  the  Irish  settlements  upon  the  Continent,  and  the 
keenness  with  which  their  relics  have  been  studied  by  European 
scholars — French,  German,  and  Italian.  The  most  important 
are  the  glosses  found  in  the  Irish  MSS.  of  Milan,  published 
by  Ascoli,  Zeuss,  Stokes,  and  Nigra ;  those  in  St.  Gall — a 
monastery  in  Switzerland  founded  by  St.  Gall,  an  Irish  friend 
of  Columbanus,  in  the  sixth  century — published  by  Ascoli  and 
Nigra  ;  those  in  Wurtzburg,  published  by  Zimmer  and  Zeuss  ; 
those  in  Carlsruhe,  published  by  Zeuss ;  those  in  Turin, 
published  by  Zimmer,  Nigra,  and  Stokes  in  his  "  Goidelica  "  ; 
those  in  Vienna,  published  by  Zimmer  in  his  "  Glossae  Hibernicae  " 
and  Stokes  in  his  "  Goidelica  "  ;  those  in  Berne,  those  in  Leyden, 
those  in  Nancy,  and  the  glosses  on  the  Cambrai  Sermon, 
published  by  Zeuss.2  Next  in  antiquity  to  these  are  the  Irish 
parts  of  the  Book  of  Armagh,  the  poems  in  the  MSS.  of  St. 

1  Such,  for  example,  is  the  fragment  of  a  commentary  on  the  Psalter 
published  by  Kuno  Meyer  in  "  Hibernica  Minora,"  from  Rawlinson,  B.  512. 
The  original  is  assigned  by  him,  judging  from  its  grammatical  forms,  to 
about  the  year  750.    It  is  very  ample  and  diffuse,  and  tells  about  the 
Shophetim,  or  Sophtim,  as  the  writer  calls  it,  the  Didne  Haggamim,  etc., 
and  is  an  excellent  example  of  the  kind  of  Irish  commentaries  used  by  the 
early  ecclesiastics. 

2  "  Gram.  Celt.,"  p.  1004-7. 


268     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

Gall  and  Milan,1  and  some  of  the  pieces  published  by  Windisch 
in  his  "  Irische  Texte."  Next  to  this  is  probably  the 
Martyrology  of  Angus  the  Culdee.  And  then  come  the 
great  Middle-Irish  books — the  Leabhar  na  h-Uidhre,  the  Book 
of  Leinster,  and  the  rest. 

From  a  palaeographic  point  of  view  the  oldest  books  in 
Ireland  are  probably  the  "  Domhnach  Airgid,"  a  copy  of  the 
Four  Gospels  in  a  triple  shrine  of  yew,  silver-plated  copper, 
and  gold-plated  silver,  which  St.  Patrick  was  believed  to  have 
given  to  St.  Carthainn  when  he  told  that  saint  with  a  shrewd 
wisdom,  which  in  later  days  aroused  the  admiration  of  Mr. 
Matthew  Arnold,  to  build  himself  a  church  "  that  should  not 
be  too  near  to  himself  for  familiarity  nor  too  far  from  himself 
for  intercourse."  It  probably  dates  from  the  fifth  or  sixth 
century.  The  Cathach  supposed  to  have  been  surreptitiously 
written  by  Columcille  from  Finnian's  book2 — a  Latin  copy  of 
the  Gospels  in  Trinity  College,  Dublin  ;  the  Book  of  Durrow, 
a  beautiful  illuminated  copy  of  the  same  ;  the  Book  of  Dim- 
ma,  containing  the  Four  Gospels,  ritual,  and  prayers,  probably 
a  work  of  the  seventh  century  ;  the  Book  of  Moiling,  ot 
probably  about  the  same  date  ;  the  Gospels  of  Mac  Regol, 
the  largest  of  the  Old  Irish  Gospel  books,  highly  but  not 
elegantly  coloured,  with  an  interlinear  Anglo-Saxon  version 
in  a  late  hand  carried  through  its  pages ;  the  Book  of  Kells, 
the  unapproachable  glory  of  Irish  illumination,  and  some  other 
ecclesiastical  books.  After  them  come  the  Leabhar  na 
h-Uidre  and  the  great  books  of  poems  and  saga. 

Although  the  language  of  these  sagas  and  poems  is  not  that 
of  the  glosses,  but  what  is  called  "  Middle-Irish,"  still  it  does 
not  in  the  least  follow  that  the  poems  and  sagas  belong  to  the 
Middle-Irish  period.  "The  old  Middle- Irish  manuscripts," 
says  Zimmer,  "  contain  for  the  most  part  only  Old  Irish  texts 
re- written."  3  "  Unfortunately,"  says  Windisch,  "  every  new 

1  Published  by  Zeuss  in  his  "  Gramrnatica  Celtica." 

3  See  above,  p.  175.  3  "  Keltische  Studien,"  Heft  i.  p.  88. 


THE   OLDEST  BOOKS  AND  POEMS      269 

copyist  has  given  to  the  text  more  or  less  of  the  linguistic  garb 
of  his  own  day,  so  that  as  far  as  the  language  of  Irish  texts  goes, 
it  depends  principally  upon  the  age  of  the  manuscript  that  con- 
tains them."  *  And  again,  in  his  preface  to  Adamnan's  vision,  he 
writes  :  "  Since  we  know  that  Irish  texts  were  rewritten  by 
every  fresh  copyist  more  or  less  regularly  in  the  speech  of  his 
own  day,  the  real  age  or  a  prose  text  cannot  possibly  be 
determined  by  the  linguistic  forms  of  its  language."  2  It  is 
much  easier  to  tell  the  age  of  poetry  than  prose,  for  the 
gradual  modification  of  language,  altering  of  words,  shortening 
of  inflexions,  and  so  on,  must  interfere  with  the  metre,  so  that 
when  we  find  a  poem  in  a  twelfth-century  manuscript  written 
in  Middle  Irish  and  in  a  perfect  metrical  form,  we  may — no 
matter  to  what  age  it  is  ascribed — be  pretty  sure  that  it  cannot 
be  more  than  two  or  three  centuries  older  than  the  manuscript 
that  contains  it.  Yet  even  of  the  poems  Dr.  Atkinson 
writes  :  "The  poem  may  be  of  the  eighth  century,  but  the 
forms  are  in  the  main  of  the  twelfth."  3  Where  poems  that 
really  are  of  ancient  date  have  had  their  language  modified 
in  transcription  so  as  to  render  them  intelligible,  the  metre  is 
bound  to  suffer,  and  this  lends  us  a  criterion  whereby  to  gauge 
the  age  of  verse,  which  is  lacking  to  us  when  we  come  to  deal 
with  prose. 

This  modification  of  language  is  not  uncommon  in  literature 
and  takes  place  naturally,  but  I  doubt  if  there  ever  was  a 
literature  in  which  it  played  the  same  important  part  as  in 
Irish.  Thus  let  us  take  the  story  of  the  Tain  Bo  Chuailgne, 
of  which  I  shall  have  more  to  say  later  on.  Zimmer,  after 
long  and  careful  study  of  the  text  as  preserved  to  us  in  a  manu- 
script of  about  the  year  noo,  came  to  the  conclusion  from  the 
marks  of  Old  Irish  inflexion,  and  so  forth,  which  still  remain  in 
the  eleventh-century  text,  that  there  had  been  two  recensions  of 

Preface  to  Loinges  Mac  n-Usnig,  "  Irische  Texte,"  i.  61. 

2  "  Irische  Texte,"  i.  p.  167. 

3  Preface  to  the  list  of  contents  of  the  facsimile  Book  of  Leinster. 


270     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

the  story,  a  pre-Danish,  that  is,  say,  a  seventh-century  one, 
and  a  post-Danish,  that  is  a  tenth-  or  eleventh-century  one. 
Thus  the  epic  may  have  been  originally  committed  to  paper  in 
the  seventh  century,  modified  in  the  tenth,  transcribed  into 
the  manuscripts  in  which  we  have  it  in  the  eleventh  and  twelfth, 
and  propagated  from  that  down  to  the  eighteenth  century,  in 
copies  every  one  of  which  underwent  more  or  less  alteration 
in  order  to  render  it  more  intelligible ;  and  it  was  in  fact  in 
an  eighteenth-century  manuscript,  yet  one  that  differed,  as  I 
subsequently  discovered,  in  few  essentials  from  the  copy  in  the 
Book  of  Leinster  that  I  first  read  it.  As  the  bards  lived  to 
please  so  they  had  to  please  to  live.  The  popular  mind  only 
receives  with  pleasure  and  transmits  with  readiness  popular 
poetry  upon  the  condition  that  it  is  intelligible,1  and  hence 
granting  that  Finn  mac  Cool  was  a  real  historical  personage,  it 
is  perfectly  possible  that  some  of  his  poetry  was  handed  down 
from  generation  to  generation  amongst  the  conservative  Gael, 
and  slightly  altered  or  modified  from  time  to  time  to  make  it 
more  intelligible,  according  as  words  died  out  and  inflexions  be- 
came obsolete.  The  Oriental  philologist,  Max  Miiller,  in 
attempting  to  explain  how  myths  arose  (according  to  his  theory) 
from  a  disease  of  language,  thinks  that  during  the  transition 
period  of  which  he  speaks,  there  would  be  many  words  "under- 
stood perhaps  by  the  grandfather,  familiar  to  the  father,  but 
strange  to  the  son,  and  misunderstood  by  the  grandson."  This 
is  exactly  what  is  taking  place  over  half  Ireland  at  this  very 
moment,  and  it  is  what  has  always  been  at  work  amongst  a 
people  whose  language  and  literature  go  back  with  certainty  for 
nearly  1,500  years.  Accordingly  before  the  art  of  writing 
became  common,  ere  yet  expensive  vellum  MSS.  and  a  highly- 


1  With  the  exception  of  the  ancient  Irish  prayers  like  Mairinn  Phadraig, 
preserved  by  tradition,  which  are  for  the  most  part  not  intelligible  to  the 
reciters,  but  which  owe  their  preservation  to  the  promise  usually  tacked  on 
at  the  end  that  the  reciters  shall  receive  some  miraculous  or  heavenly 
blessing.  See  my  "  Religious  Songs  of  Connacht." 


THE   OLDEST  BOOKS  AND  POEMS      271 

paid  class  of  historians  and  schools  of  scribes  to  a  certain  extent 
stereotyped  what  they  set  down,  it  is  altogether  probable  that 
people  who  trusted  to  the  ear  and  to  memory,  modified  and 
corrupted  but  still  handed  down,  at  least  some  famous  poems, 
like  those  ascribed  to  Amergin  or  Finn  mac  Cool.  That  the 
Celtic  memory  for  things  unwritten  is  long  I  have  often 
proved.  I  have  heard  from  peasants  stanzas  composed  by 
Donogha  Mor  O'Daly,  of  Boyle,  in  the  thirteenth  cen- 
tury ;  I  have  recovered  from  an  illiterate  peasant,  in  1890  in 
Roscommon,  verses  which  had  been  jotted  down  in  phonetic 
spelling  in  Argyleshire  by  Macgregor,  Dean  of  Lismore,  in 
the  year  1512,  and  which  may  have  been  sung  for  hundreds 
of  years  before  it  struck  the  fancy  of  the  Highland  divine  to 
commit  them  to  paper  ; *  and  I  have  again  heard  verses  in 
which  the  measure  and  sense  were  preserved,  but  found  on 
comparing  them  with  MSS.  that  several  obsolete  words  had 
been  altered  to  others  that  rhymed  with  them  and  were 
intelligible. 2  For  these  reasons  I  should,  in  many  cases, 
refuse  absolutely  to  reject  the  authenticity  of  a  poem 
simply  because  the  language  is  more  modern  than  that  ot 
the  bard  could  have  been  to  whom  it  is  ascribed,  and  it 
seems  to  me  equally  uncritical  either  to  accept  or  reject 
much  of  our  earliest  poetry,  except  what  is  in  highly- 
developed  metre,  as  a  good  deal  of  it  may  possibly  be  the 
actual  (but  linguistically  modified)  work  of  the  supposed 
authors. 

This  modifying  process  is  something  akin  to  but  very 
different  in  degree  from  Pope's  rewriting  of  Donne's  satires 
or  Dryden's  version  of  Chaucer,  inasmuch  as  it  was  probably 
both  unconscious  and  unintentional.  To  understand  better 
how  this  modification  may  have  taken  place,  let  us  examine  a 

1  See  my  note  on  the  Story  of  Oscar  au  fleau,  in  "  Revue  Celtique," 
vol.  xiii.  p.  425. 

2  Cf.    my    note   on    Bran's    colour,    at   p.  277  of   my    "Beside   the 
Fire." 


272      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

few  lines  of  the  thirteenth-century  English  poem,  the  "  Brut" 
of  Layamon  : — 

"  And  swa  ich  habbe  al  niht 
Of  mine  swevene  swithe  ithoht, 
For  ich  what  to  iwisse 
Agan  is  al  my  blisse." 

These  lines  were,  no  doubt,  intelligible  to  an  ordinary  English- 
man at  the  time.  Gradually  they  become  a  little  modernised, 

thus  : — 

"  And  so  I  have  all  night 
Of  min-e  sweeven  swith  ythought, 
For  I  wat  to  ywiss 
Agone  is  all  my  bliss." 

Had  these  verses  been  preserved  in  folk-memory  they  must 
have  undergone  a  still  further  modification  as  soon  as  the  words 
sweeven  (dream),  swith  (much),  and  ywiss  (certainty)  began 
to  grow  obsolete,  and  we  should  have  the  verse  modified  and 
mangled,  perhaps  something  in  this  way  : — 

"  And  so  I  have  all  the  night 
Of  my  dream  greatly  thought, 
For  I  wot  and  I  wis 
That  gone  is  all  my  bliss." 

The  words  "I  wot  and  I  wis,"  in  the  third  line,  represent 
just  about  as  much  archaism  as  the  popular  memory  and  taste 
will  stand  without  rebelling.  Some  modification  in  the  direc- 
tion here  hinted  at  may  be  found  in,  I  should  think,  more  than 
half  the  manuscripts  in  the  Royal  Irish  Academy  to-day,  and 
just  in  the  same  sense  as  the  lines, 

"  For  I  wot  and  I  wis 

That  gone  is  my  bliss," 

are  Layamon's  ;  so  we  may  suppose, 

"  Dubthach  missi  mac  do  Lugaid 
Laidech  lantrait 


THE   OLDEST  BOOKS  AND  POEMS     273 

Me  rue  inmbreith  etir  Loegaire 
Ocus  Patraic,"  * 

to  be  the  fifth  century  O'Lugair's,  or 

"  Leathaid  folt  fada  fraich, 
Forbrid  canach  fann  firm,"  * 

to  be  Finn  mac  CumhaiPs. 

Of  the  many  poems — as  distinguished  from  sagas,  which  are 
a  mixture  of  poetry  and  prose — said  to  have  been  produced 
from  pagan  times  down  to  the  eighth  century,  none  can  be 
properly  called  epics  or  even  epopees.  There  are  few  continued 
efforts,  and  the  majority  of  the  pieces  though  interesting  for 
a  great  many  reasons  to  students,  would  hardly  interest  an 
English  reader  when  translated.  Unfortunately,  such  a  great 
amount  of  our  early  literature  being  lost,  we  can  only  judge  of 
what  it  was  like  through  the  shorter  pieces  which  have  been 
preserved,  and  even  these  short  pieces  read  rather  jejune  and 
barren  in  English,  partly  because  of  the  great  condensation  of 
the  original,  a  condensation  which  was  largely  brought  about 
by  the  necessity  of  versification  in  difficult  metres.  In  order 
to  see  beauty  in  the  most  ancient  Irish  verse  it  is  absolutely 
necessary  to  read  it  in  the  original  so  as  to  perceive  and  appreciate 
the  alliteration  and  other  tours  de  force  which  appear  in  every 
line.  These  verses,  for  instance,  which  Meve,  daughter  or 
Conan,  is  said  to  have  pronounced  over  Cuchorb,  her  hus- 

1  In  more  modern  Irish  : — 

"  Dubhthach  mise,  mac  do  Lughaidh 

Laoi-each  lan-traith 
Me  rug  an  bhreith  idir  Laoghaire 
Agus  Padraig." 

I.e.,  "  I  am  Dubhthach,  son  of  Lewy  the  lay-full,  full-wise.  It  is  I  who 
delivered  judgment  between  Leary  and  Patrick."  Traith  is  the  only  obso- 
lete word  here. 

2  In  modern  Irish,  "  Leathnuighidh  folt  fada  fraoch,"  i.e.,  "  Leathnuighidh 
fraoch  folt  fada,  foirbridh  (fasaidh)  canach  (ceannabhan)  fann  fionn,"  i.e., 
"  Spreads  heath  its  long  hair,  flourishes  the  feeble,  fair  cotton-grass." 

s 


274     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

band,  in  the  first  century,  appear  bald  enough  in  a  literal 
translation : — 

"  Moghcorb's  son  whom  fame  conceals  [covers] 
Well  sheds  he  blood  by  his  spears, 
A  stone  over  his  grave — 'tis  a  pity — 
Who  carried  battle  over  Cliu  Mail. 

My  noble  king,  he  spoke  not  falsehood, 
His  success  was  certain  in  every  danger, 
As  black  as  a  raven  was  his  brow, 
As  sharp  was  his  spear  as  a  razor,"  etc. 

One  might  read  this  kind  of  thing  for  ever  in  a  translation 
without  being  struck  by  anything  more  than  some  occasional 
curiosa  fellcitas  of  phrase  or  picturesque  expression,  and  one 
would  never  suspect  that  the  original  was  so  polished  and  com- 
plicated as  it  really  is.  Here  are  these  two  verses  done  into 
the  exact  versification  of  the  original,  in  which  interlinear 
vowel-rhymes,  alliterations,  and  all  the  other  requirements  of 
the  Irish  are  preserved  and  marked  : — 

"  Mochorb's  son  of  Fiercest  FAME, 

KNown  his  NAME  for  bloody  toil, 
To  his  Gory  Grave  is  GONE, 

He  who  SHONE  o'er  Snouting  Moyle. 

Kindly  King,  who  Liked  not  LIES, 

Rash  to  RISE  to  Fields  of  Fame, 
Raven-Black  his  Brows  of  FEAR, 

Razor-Sharp  his  SPEAR  of  flame,"  etc.1 

This  specimen  of  Irish  metre  may  help  to  place  much  of  oui 
poetry  in  another  light,  for  its  beauty  depends  less  upon  the 
intrinsic  substance  of  the  thought  than  the  external  elegance 

1  Here  is  the  first  verse  of  this  in  the  original.  The  Old  Irish  is  nearly 
unintelligible  to  a  modern.  I  have  here  modernised  the  spelling  : — 

"  Mac  Mogachoirb  Cheileas  CLU 
Cun  fearas  CRU  thar  a  ghaibh 
Ail  uas  a  Ligi — budh  LIACH — 
Baslaide  CHLIATH  thar  Cliu  Mail." 

The  rhyming  words  do  not  make  perfect  rhyme  as  in  English,  but  pretty 
nearly  so — clu  cm,  liath  cliath,  gdibh  mail. 


THE  OLDEST.    BOOKS  AND  POEMS     275 

of  the  framework.  We  must  understand  this  in  order  to  do 
justice  to  our  versified  literature,  for  the  student  must  not 
imagine  that  he  will  find  long-sustained  epics  or  interesting 
narrative  poems  after  the  manner  of  the  Iliad  or  Odyssey, 
or  even  the  Nibelungenlied,  or  the  "  Song  of  Roland ;"  none 
such  now  exist :  if  they  did  exist  they  are  lost.  The  early  poems 
consist  rather  of  eulogies,  elegies,  historical  pieces,  and  lyrics, 
few  of  them  of  any  great  length,  and  still  fewer  capable  of 
interesting  an  English  reader  in  a  translation.  Occasionally  we 
meet  with  touches  of  nature  poetry  of  which  the  Gael  has 
always  been  supremely  fond.  Here  is  a  tentative  translation 
made  by  O'Donovan  of  a  part  of  the  first  poem  which  Finn 
mac  Cumhail  is  said  to  have  composed  after  his  eating  of 
the  salmon  of  knowledge  : — 

"May-Day,  delightful  time!  How  beautiful  the  colour;  the 
blackbirds  sing  their  full  lay  ;  would  that  Laighaig  were  here  !  The 
cuckoos  sing  in  constant  strains.  How  welcome  is  ever  the  noble 
brilliance  of  the  seasons  !  On  the  margin  of  the  branching  woods 
the  summer  swallows  skim  the  stream.  The  swift  horses  seek  the 
pool.  The  heath  spreads  out  its  long  hair,  the  weak,  fair  bog-down 
grows.  Sudden  consternation  attacks  the  signs,  the  planets,  in  their 
courses  running,  exert  an  influence  ;  the  sea  is  lulled  to  rest,  flowers 
cover  the  earth." 

The  language  of  this  poem  is  so  old  as  to  be  in  parts  unin- 
telligible, and  the  broken  metre  points  to  the  difficulties  of 
transmission  over  a  long  period  of  time,  yet  he  would  be  a  bold 
man  who  would  ascribe  with  certainty  the  authorship  of  it  to 
Finn  mac  Cumhail  in  the  third  century,  or  the  elegy  on  Cuchorb 
to  Meve,  daughter  of  Conan,  a  contemporary  of  Virgil  and 
Horace.  And  yet  all  the  history  of  these  people  is  known 
and  recorded  with  much  apparent  plausibility  and  many 
collateral  circumstances  connecting  them  with  the  men  of 
their  time.  How  much  of  this  is  genuine  historical  tradition  ? 
How  much  is  later  invention  ?  It  is  difficult  to  decide  at 
present. 


CHAPTER  XXII 

EARLY    SAGA    AND    ROMANCE 

DURING  the  golden  period  of  the  Greek  and  Roman  genius 
no  one  ever  wrote  a  romance.  Epics  they  left  behind 
them,  and  history,  but  the  romance,  the  Danish  saga,  the 
Irish  sgeul  or  ursgeul  was  unknown.  It  was  in  time  of 
decadence  that  a  body  of  Greek  prose  romance  appeared, 
and  with  the  exception  of  Petronius'  semi-prose  "Satyri- 
con,"  and  Apuleius'  "  Golden  Ass,"  the  Latin  language  pro- 
duced in  this  line  little  of  a  higher  character  than  such  works 
as  the  Gesta  Romanorum.  In  Greece  and  Italy  where  the 
genial  climate  favoured  all  kinds  of  open-air  representations, 
the  great  development  of  the  drama  took  the  place  of  novelistic 
literature,  as  it  did  for  a  long  time  amongst  the  English  after 
the  Elizabethan  revival.  In  Ireland,  on  the  other  hand,  the 
dramatic  stage  was  never  reached  at  all,  but  the  development 
of  the  ursgeul,  romance,  or  novel,  was  quite  abnormally  great. 
I  have  seen  it  more  than  once  asserted,  if  I  mistake  not,  that 
the  dramatic  is  an  inevitable  and  an  early  development  in  the 
history  of  every  literature,  but  this  is  to  generalise  from  insuf- 
ficient instances.  The  Irish  literature  which  kept  on  develop- 
ing— to  some  extent  at  least — for  over  a  thousand  years,  and  of 
which  hundreds  of  volumes  still  exist,  never  evolved  a  drama,  nor 
so  much,  as  far  as  I  know,  as  even  a  miracle  play,  although 
these  are  found  in  Welsh  and  even  Cornish.  What  Ireland 


tted 
>  to 
did 


EARLY  SAGA   AND  ROMANCE  277 

did  produce,  and  produce  nobly  and  well,  was  romance ;  from 
the  first  to  the  last,  from  the  seventh  to  the  seventeenth 
century,  Irishmen,  without  distinction  of  class,  alike  delighted 
in  the  ursgeul. 

When  this  form  of  literature  first  came  into  vogue  we  have  no 
means  of  ascertaining,  but  the  narrative  prose  probably  developed 
at  a  very  early  period  as  a  supplement  to  defective  narrative 
verse.  Not  that  verse  or  prose  were  then  and  there  committed 
to  writing,  for  it  is  said  that  the  business  of  the  bards  was 
learn  their  stories  by  heart.  I  take  it,  however,  that  they 
not  actually  do  this,  but  merely  learned  the  incidents  of  a  story 
in  their  regular  sequence,  and  that  their  training  enabled  them 
to  fill  these  up  and  clothe  them  on  the  spur  of  the  moment  in 
the  most  effective  garments,  decking  them  out  with  passages 
of  gaudy  description,  with  rattling  alliterative  lines  and  "runs" 
and  abundance  of  adjectival  declamation.  The  bards,  no 
matter  from  what  quarter  of  the  island,  had  all  to  know  the 
same  story  or  novel,  provided  it  was  a  renowned  one,  but  with 
each  the  sequence  of  incidents,  and  the  incidents  themselves 
were  probably  for  a  long  time  the  same  ;  but  the  language  in  } 
which  they  were  tricked  out  and  the  length  to  which  they ; 
were  spun  depended  probably  upon  the  genius  or  bent  of  each 
particular  bard.  Of  course  in  process  of  time  divergences 
began  to  arise,  and  hence  different  versions  of  the  same  story. 
That,  at  least,  is  how  I  account  for  such  passages  as  "  but  others 
say  that  it  was  not  there  he  was  killed,  but  in,"  etc.,  "  but  some 
of  the  books  say  that  it  was  not  on  this  wise  it  happened,  but," 
and  so  on. 

It  is  probable  that  very  many  novels  were  in  existence  before 
the  coming  of  St.  Patrick,  but  highly  unlikely  that  they  were 
at  that  time  written  down  at  full  length.  It  was  probably  only 
after  the  country  had  become  Christianised  and  full  of  schools 
and  learning  that  the  bards  experienced  the  desire  of  writing 
down  their  sagas,  with  as  much  as  they  could  recapture  of  the 
ancient  poetry  upon  which  they  were  built.  In  the  Book  of. 


278      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

Leinster,  a  manuscript  of  the  twelfth  century,  we  find  an 
extraordinary-  list  of  no  less  than  187  of  those  romances  with 
THREE  HUNDRED  AND  FIFTY  of  which  an  ollamh  had  to  be 
acquainted.  The  ollamh  was  the  highest  dignitary  amongst 
the  bards,  and  it  took  him  from  nine  to  twelve  years'  training 
to  learn  the  two  hundred  and  fifty  prime  stories  and  the  one 
hundred  secondary  ones  along  with  the  other  things  which 
were  required  of  him.  The  prime  stories — combinations  of 
epic  and  novel,  prose  and  poetry — are  divided  in  the  manu- 
scripts into  the  following  romantic  catalogue  : — Destruc- 
tions of  fortified  places,  Cow  spoils  (z.^.,  cattle-raiding 
expeditions),  Courtships  or  wooings,  Battles,  Cave-stories, 
Navigations,  Tragical  deaths,  Feasts,  Sieges,  Adventures, 
Elopements,  Slaughters,  Water-eruptions,  Expeditions,  Pro- 
gresses, and  Visions.  "  He  is  no  poet,"  says  the  Book  of 
Leinster,  "who  does  not  synchronise  and  harmonise  all  the 
stories."  We  possess,  as  I  have  said,  the  names  of  187  such 
stories  in  the  Book  of  Leinster,  and  the  names  of  many  more 
are  given  in  the  tenth-  or  eleventh-century  tale  of  Mac 
Coise ;  and  all  the  known  ones,  with  the  exception  of  one  tale 
added  later  on,  and  one  which,  evidently  through  an  error  in 
transcription,  refers  to  Arthur  instead  of  Aithirne,  are  about 
events  prior  to  the  year  650  or  thereabouts.  We  may  take  it, 
then,  that  this  list  was  drawn  up  in  the  seventh  century. 

Now,  who  were  the  authors  of  these  couple  of  hundred 
romances  ?  It  is  a  natural  question,  but  one  which  cannot  be 
answered.  There  is  not  a  trace  of  their  authorship  remaining, 
if  authorship  be  the  right  word  for  what  I  suspect  to  have  been 
the  gradual  growth  of  race,  tribal,  and  family  history,  and  of 
Celtic  mythology,  told  and  retold,  and  polished  up,  and  added 
to  ;  some  of  them,  especially  such  as  are  the  descendants  of  a 
pagan  mythology,  must  have  been  handed  down  for  perhaps 
countless  generations,  others  recounted  historical,  tribal,  or 
family  doings,  magnified  during  the  course  of  time,  others  again 
of  more  recent  date,  are  perhaps  fairly  accurate  accounts  of  actual 


EARLY  SAGA   AND  ROMANCE  279 

events,  but  all  PRIOR  TO  ABOUT  THE  YEAR  650.  I  take  it  that 
so  soon  as  bardic  schools  and  colleges  began  to  be  formed,  there 
was  no  class  of  learning  more  popular  than  that  which  taught 
the  great  traditionary  stories  of  the  various  tribes  and  families 
of  the  great  Gaelic  race,  and  the  intercommunication  between 
the  bardic  colleges  propagated  local  tradition  throughout  all 
Ireland. 

The  very  essence  of  the  national  life  of  Erin  was  embodied 
in  these  stories,  but,  unfortunately,  few  out  of  the  enormous 
mass  have  survived  to  our  day,  and  these  mostly  mutilated  or 
in  mere  digests.  Some,  however,  exist  at  nearly  full  length, 
quite  sufficient  to  show  us  what  the  romances  were  like,  and 
to  cause  us  to  regret  the  irreparable  loss  inflicted  upon  our  race 
by  the  ravages  of  Danes,  Normans,  and  English.  Even  as  it 
is  O'Curry  asserts  that  the  contents  of  the  strictly  historical 
tales  known  to  him  would  be  sufficient  to  fill  up  four  thousand 
of  the  large  pages  of  the  "  Four  Masters."  He  computed  that 
the  tales  about  Finn,  Ossian,  and  the  Fenians  alone  would  fill 
another  three  thousand  pages.  In  addition  to  these  we  have  a 
considerable  number  of  imaginative  stories,  neither  historical  nor 
Fenian,  such  as  the  tc  Three  Sorrows  of  Story-telling  "  and 
the  like,  sufficient  to  fill  five  thousand  pages  more,  not  to  speak 
of  the  more  recent  novel-like  productions  of  the  later  Irish.1 

It  is  this  very  great  fecundity  of  the  very  early  Irish  in  the 
production  of  saga  and  romance,  in  poetry  and  prose,  which 
best  enables  us  to  judge  of  their  early-developed  genius,  and 
considerable  primitive  culture.  The  introduction  of  Chris- 
tianity neither  inspired  these  romances  nor  helped  to  produce 
them  ;  they  are  nearly  all  anterior  to  it,  and  had  they  been 
preserved  to  us  we  should  now  have  the  most  remarkable  body 
of  primitive  myth  and  saga  in  the  whole  western  world.  It  is 
probably  this  consideration  which  makes  M.  Darmesteter  say 

1  O'Curry  was  no  doubt  accurate,  as  he  ever  is,  in  this  computation,  but 
there  would  probably  be  some  repetition  in  the  stories,  with  lists  of  names 
and  openings  common  to  more  than  one,  and  many  late  poor  ones. 


280      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

of  Irish  literature  :  "  real  historical  documents  we  have  none 
until  the  beginning  of  the  decadence — a  decadence  so  glorious, 
that  we  almost  mistake  it  for  a  renaissance  since  the  old  epic 
sap  dries  up  only  to  make  place  for  a  new  budding  and 
bourgeoning,  a  growth  less  original  certainly,  but  scarcely  less 
wonderful  if  we  consider  the  condition  of  continental  Europe 
at  that  date."  The  decadence  that  M.  Darmesteter  alludes  to 
is  the  rise  of  the  Christian  schools  of  the  fifth  and  sixth 
centuries,  which  put  to  some  extent  an  end  to  the  epic  period 
by  turning  men's  thoughts  into  a  different  channel. 

It  is  this  "  decadence,"  however,  which  I  have  preferred  to 
examine  first,  just  because  it  does  rest  upon  real  historical 
documents,  and  can  be  proved.  We  may  now,  however, 
proceed  to  the  mass  of  saga,  the  bulk  of  which  in  its  earliest 
forms  is  pagan,  and  the  spirit  of  which,  even  in  the  latest 
texts,  has  been  seldom  quite  distorted  by  Christian  influence. 
This  saga  centres  around  several  periods  and  individuals  :  some 
of  these,  like  Tuathal  and  the  Boru  tribute,  Conaire  the 
Great  and  his  death,  have  only  one  or  two  stories  pertaining  to 
them.  But  there  are  three  cycles  which  stand  out  pre- 
eminently, and  have  been  celebrated  in  more  stories  and  sagas 
than  the  rest,  and  of  which  more  remains  have  been  preserved 
to  us  than  of  any  of  the  others.  These  are  the  Mythological 
Cycle  concerning  the  Tuatha  De  Danann  and  the  Pre- 
Milesians  ;  the  Heroic,  Ultonian,  or  Red-Branch  Cycle,1  in 
which  Cuchulain  is  the  dominating  figure;  and  the  Cycle  of 
Finn  mac  Cumhail,  Ossian,  Oscar,  and  the  High-kings  of 
Ireland  who  were  their  contemporaries — this  cycle  may  be 
denominated  the  Fenian  or  Ossianic. 

1  M.  d'Arbois  de  Jubainville  calls  this  the  Ulster,  and  calls  the  Ossianic 

the  Leinster  Cycle. 


CHAPTER   XXIII 

THE    MYTHOLOGICAL    CYCLE' 

THE  cycle  of  the  mythological  stories  which  group  themselves 
round  the  early  invasions  of  Erin  is  sparsely  represented  in 
Irish  manuscripts.     Not  only  is  their  number  less,  but  their  \ 
substance  is  more  confused  than  that  of  the  other  cycles.     To  f 
the  comparative  mythologist  and  the  folk-lorist,  however,  they 
are  perhaps  the  most  interesting  of  all,  as  throwing  more  light 
than  any  of  the  others  upon  the  early  religious  ideas  of  the 
race.      Most '  of  the  sagas  connected  with  this  pre-Milesian 
cycle  are   now   to   be   found  only   in   brief  digests  preserved 
in  the  Leabhar  Gabhala,1  or  Book  of  Invasions  of  Ireland,  of  — - 
which  large   fragments  exist   in   the   Books  of  Leinster  and 
Bally  mote,  and  which  Michael  O'Clery  (collecting  from  all  — 
the  ancient  sources  which  he  could  find  in  his  day)  rewrote 
about  the  year   1630. 

This  tells  us  all  the  early  history  of  Ireland  and  of  the  races 
that  inhabited  it  before  our  forefathers  landed.  It  tells  us  of 
how  first  a  man  called  Partholan  made  a  settlement  in  Ireland, 
but  how  in  time  he  and  his  people  all  died  of  the  plague, 
leaving  the  land  deserted ;  and  how  after  that  the  Nemedians, 
or  children  of  Nemed,  colonised  the  island  and  multiplied  in  it, 

1  "  L'yowar  (rhyming  to  hour)  gow-awla,"  the  "  book  of  the  takings  or 
holdings  of  Ireland." 


282      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

until  they  began  to  be  oppressed  by  the  Fomorians,  who  are 
usually  described  as  African  sea-robbers,  but  the  etymology  of 
whose  name  seems  to  point  to  a  mythological  origin  "  men 
from  under  sea."  x  A  number  of  battles  took  place  between  the 
rival  hosts,  and  the  Fomorians  were  defeated  in  three  battles, 
but  after  the  death  of  Nemed,  who,  like  Partholan,  died  of  a 
plague,  the  Fomorians  oppressed  his  people  again,  and,  led  by 
a  chief  called  Conaing,  built  a  great  tower  upon  Tory,  /.<?., 
Tower  Island,  off  the  north-west  coast  of  Donegal.  On  the 
eve  of  every  Samhain  [Sou-an,  or  All  Hallow's]  the  wretched 
Nemedians  had  to  deliver  up  to  these  masters  two-thirds  of 
their  children,  corn,  and  cattle.  Driven  to  desperation  by  these 
exactions  they  rose  in  arms,  stormed  the  tower,  and  slew 
Conaing,  all  which  the  Book  of  Invasions  describes  at  length. 
The  Fomorians  being  reinforced,  the  Nemedians  fought 
them  a  second  time  in  the  same  place,  but  in  this  battle  most 
of  them  were  killed  or  drowned,  the  tide  having  come  in  and 
washed  over  them  and  their  foes  alike.  The  crew  of  one  ship, 
however,  escaped,  and  these,  after  a  further  sojourn  of  seven 
years  in  Ireland,  led  out  of  it  the  surviving  remnants  of  their 
race  with  the  exception  of  a  very  few  who  remained  behind 
subject  to  the  Fomorians.  Those  who  left  Ireland  divided 
into  three  bands :  one  sought  refuge  in  Greece,  where  they 
again  fell  into  slavery  ;  the  second  went — some  say — to  the 
north  of  Europe ;  and  the  third,  headed  by  a  chief  called 
Briton  Mael — hence,  say  the  Irish,  the  name  of  Great  Britain 
— found  refuge  in  Scotland,  where  their  descendants  remained 
until  the  Cruithni,  or  Picts,  overcame  them. 

After  a  couple  of  hundred  years  the  Nemedians  who  had 
fled  to  Greece  came  back  again,  calling  themselves  Fir- 
bolg,2  /.*.,  "  sack "  or  "  bag "  men,  and  held  Ireland  for 

1  Keating  derives  it  from  foghla,  "  spoil,"  and  muir,  "  sea,"  which  is  an 
impossible  derivation,  or  from/o  muirib,  as  if  "  along  the  seas,"  but  it  really 
means  "under  seas." 

2  Also  Fir  Domnan  and  Fir  Galeoin,  two  tribes  of  the  same  race. 


THE  MYTHOLOGICAL   CYCLE  283 

about  thirty-five  years  in  peace,  when  another  tribe  of  invaders 
appeared  upon  the  scene.  These  were  no  less  than  the  cele- 
brated Tuatha  De  Danann,  who  turned  out  to  be,  in  fact, 
the  descendants  of  the  second  band  of  Nemedians  who  had 
fled  to  the  north  of  Europe,  and  who  returned  about  thirty-six 
years  later  than  their  kinsmen,  the  Firbolg. 

The  Tuatha  De  Danann  soon  overcame  the  Firbolg,  and  ' 
drove  them,  after  the  Battle   of  North   Moytura,1  into  the 
islands   along  the    coast,   to    Aran,   Islay,  Rachlin,   and   the 
Hebrides,2  after  which   they  assumed  the  sovereignty  of  the 
island  to  themselves. 

This  sovereignty  they  maintained  for  about  two  hundred 

1  When  the  oldest  list  of  current  Irish  sagas  was  drawn  up,  probably  in 
the  seventh  century,  only  one  battle  of  Moytura  was  mentioned  ;  this  was 
evidently  what  is  now  known  as  the  second  battle.    In  the  more  recent  list 
contained  in  the  introduction  to  the  Senchus  Mor  there  is  mention  made  of 
both  battles.    There  is  only  a  single  copy  of  each  of  these  sagas  known  to 
exist.    Of  most  of  the  other  sagas  of  this  cycle  even  the  last  copy  has 
perished. 

2  Long  afterwards,  at  the  time  that  Ireland  was  divided  into  five  pro- 
vinces, the  Cruithnigh,  or  Picts,  drove  the  Firbolg  out  of  the  islands  again, 
and  they  were  forced  to  come  back  to  Cairbre  Niafer,  king  of  Leinster, 
who  allotted  them  a  territory,  but  placed  such  a  rack-rent  upon  them  that 
they  were  glad  to  fly  into  Connacht,  where  Oilioll  and  Meve — the  king 
and  queen  who  made  the  Tain  Bo  Chuailgne — gave  them  a  free  grant  of 
land,  and  there  Duald  Mac  Firbis,  over  two  hundred  and  fifty  years  ago, 
found  their  descendants  in  plenty.  According  to  some  accounts,  they  were 
never  driven  wholly  out  of  Connacht,  and  if  they  are  a  real  race — as, 
despite  their  connection  with  the  obviously  mythical  Tuatha  De  Danann, 
they  appear  to  be — they  probably  still  form  the  basis  of  population  there. 
Maine  Mor,  the  ancestor  of  the  O'Kellys,  is  said  to  have  wrested  from  them 
the  territory  of  Ui  Maine  (part  of  Roscommon  and  Galway)  in  the  sixth 
century.    Their  name  and  that  of  their  fellow  tribe,  the  Fir  Domnan, 
appear  to  be  the  same  as  the  Belgae,  and  the  Damnonii  of  Gaul  and 
Britain,  who  are  said  to  have  given  its  name  to  Devonshire.    Despite  their 
close  connection  in  the  Book  of  Invasions  and  early  history  of  Ireland,  the 
Firbolg  stand  on  a  completely  different  footing  from  the  De  Danann 
tribes.    Their  history  is  recorded  consecutively  from  that  day  to  this  ; 
many  families  trace  their  pedigree  to  them,  and  they  never  wholly  dis- 
appeared.    No  family  traces  its  connection  to  the  De  Danann  people  ; 
they  wholly  disappear,  and  are  in  later  times  regarded  as  gods,  or  demons, 
or  fairies. 


284      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

years,  until  the  ancestors  of  the  present  Irish,  the  Scots,  or  Gaels, 
or  Milesians,  as  they  are  variously  called,  landed  and  beat  the 
Tuatha  De  Danann,  and  reigned  in  their  stead  until  they,  too, 
in  their  turn  were  conquered  by  the  English.  The  Book  of 
Conquests  is  largely  concerned  with  their  landing  and  first 
:  settlements  and  their  battles  with  the  De  Danann  people 
[  whom  they  ended  in  completely  overcoming,  after  which  the 
\  Tuatha  De  assume  a  very  obscure  position.  They  appear  to 
have  for  the  most  part  retired  off  the  surface  of  the  country 
into  the  green  hills  and  mounds,  and  lived  in  these,  often 
appearing  amongst  the  Milesian  population,  and  sometimes 
giving  their  daughters  in  marriage  to  them.  From  this  out 
they  are  confounded  with  the  Sidhe  [Shee],  or  spirits,  now  called 
fairies,  and  to  this  very  day  I  have  heard  old  men,  when 
speaking  of  the  fairies  who  inhabit  ancient  raths  and  interfere 
occasionally  in  mortal  concerns  either  for  good  or  evil,  call 
them  by  the  name  of  the  Tuatha  De  Danann. 

The  first  battle  of  Moytura  was  fought  between  the  Tuatha 
De  Danann  and  the  Firbolg,  who  were  utterly  routed,  but 
Nuada,  the  king  of  the  Tuatha  De,  lost  his  hand  in  the 
battle.  As  he  was  thus  suffering  from  a  personal  blemish,  he 
could  be  no  longer  king,  and  the  people  accordingly  decided 
to  bestow  the  sovereignty  on  Breas  [Bras],  *  whose  mother  was 
a  De  Danann,  but  whose  father  was  a  king  of  the  Fomorians, 
a  people  who  had  apparently  never  lost  sight  of  or  wholly  left 
Ireland  since  the  time  of  their  battles  with  the  Nemedians 
over  two  hundred  years  before.  The  mother  of  Breas,  Eiriu,2 
was  a  person  of  authority,  and  her  son  was  elected  to  the 
sovereignty  on  the  understanding  that  if  his  reign  was  found 
unsatisfactory  he  should  resign.  He  gave  seven  pledges  of  his 
intention  of  doing  so.  At  this  time  the  Fomorians  again 

1  Bress  in  the  older  form. 

3  When  the  Milesians  landed  they  found  a  Tuatha  De  Danann  queen, 
called  Eiriu,  the  old  form  of  Eire  or  Erin,  from  whom  the  island  was 
believed  to  take  its  name.  John  Scotus  is  called  in  old  authorities  Eriu- 
gena,  not  Erigena. 


THE  MYTHOLOGICAL   CYCLE  285 

smote  Ireland  heavily  with  their  imposts  and  taxes,  as  they  had 
done  before  when  the  Nemedians  inhabited  it.  The  unfortu- 
nate De  Dannan  people  were  reduced  to  a  state  of  misery. 
Ogma  *  was  obliged  to  carry  wood,  and  the  Dagda  himself  to 
build  raths  for  their  masters,  and  they  were  so  far  reduced  as 
to  be  weak  with  hunger. 

In  the  meantime  the  kingship  of  Breas  was  not  successful. 
He  was  hard  and  niggardly.  As  the  saga  of  the  second  battle 
of  Moytura  puts  it — 

"  The  chiefs  of  the  Tuatha  De  Danann  were  dissatisfied,  for  Breas 
did  not  grease  their  knives  ;  in  vain  came  they  to  visit  Breas  ;  their 
breaths  did  not  smell  of  ale.  Neither  their  poets,  nor  bards,  nor 
druids,  nor  harpers,  nor  flute-players,  nor  musicians,  nor  jugglers, 
nor  fools  appeared  before  them,  nor  came  into  the  palace  to  amuse 
them." 

Matters  reached  a  crisis  when  the  poet  Coirpne  came  to 
demand  hospitality  and  was  shown  "  into  a  little  house,  small, 
narrow,  black,  dark,  where  was  neither  fire  nor  furniture  nor 
bed.  He  was  given  three  little  dry  loaves  on  a  little  plate. 
When  he  rose  in  the  morning  he  was  not  thankful."  He 
gave  vent  then  to  the  first  satire  ever  uttered  in  Ireland,  which 
is  still  preserved  in  eight  lines  which  would  be  absolutely 
unintelligible  except  for  the  ancient  glosses. 

After  this  the  people  of  the  De  Danann  race  demanded  the 
abdication  of  Breas,  which  he  had  promised  in  case  his  reign  did 
not  please  them.  He  acknowledged  his  obligation  to  them,  but 
requested  a  delay  of  seven  years,  which  they  allowed  him,  on 
condition  that  he  gave  them  guarantees  to  touch  nothing 
belonging  to  them  during  that  time,  "  neither  our  houses  nor 
our  lands,  nor  our  gold,  nor  our  silver,  nor  our  cattle,  nor 
anything  eatable,  we  shall  pay  thee  neither  rent  nor  fine  to  the 
end  of  seven  years."  This  was  agreed  to. 

But  the  intention  of  Breas  in  demanding  a  delay  of  seven 
years  was  a  treacherous  one  ;  he  meant  to  approach  his  father's 

1  For  him  sec  above,  pp.  113-15. 


286     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

kindred  the  Fomorians,  and  move  them  to  reinstate  him  at  the 
point  of  the  sword.  He  goes  to  his  mother  who  tells  him 
who  his  father  is,  for  up  to  that  time  he  had  remained  in 
ignorance  of  it  ;  and  she  gives  him  a  ring  whereby  his  father 
Elatha,  a  king  of  the  Fomorians,  may  recognise  him.  He 
departs  to  the  Fomorians,  discovers  his  father  and  appeals  to 
him  for  succour.  By  his  father  he  is  sent  to  Balor,  a  king  of 
the  Fomorians  of  the  Isles  of  Norway — a  locality  probably 
ascribed  to  the  Fomorians  after  the  invasions  of  the  North- 
men— and  there  gathered  together  an  immense  army  to  subdue 
the  Tuatha  De  Danann  and  give  the  island  to  their  relation 
Breas. 

In  the  meantime  Nuada,  whose  hand  had  been  replaced  by 
a  silver  one,  reascends  the  throne  and  is  joined  by  Lugh  of  the 
Long-hand,  the  "  Ildana  "  or  "man  of  various  arts."  This  Lugh 
was  a  brother  of  the  Dagda  and  of  Ogma,  and  is  perhaps  the 
best-known  figure  among  the  De  Danann  personalities.  Lugh 
and  the  Dagda  and  Ogma  and  Goibniu  the  smith  and  Dian- 
cecht  the  leech  met  secretly  every  day  at  a  place  in  Meath  for 
a  whole  year,  and  deliberated  how  best  to  shake  off  the  yoke 
of  the  Fomorians.  Then  they  held  a  general  meeting  of  the 
Tuatha  De  and  spoke  with  each  one  in  secret. 

"'How  wilt  thou  show  thy  power?'  said  Lugh,  to  the  sorcerer 
Mathgen. 

"  '  By  my  art,'  answered  Mathgen, '  I  shall  throw  down  the  moun- 
tains of  Ireland  upon  the  Fomorians,  and  they  shall  fall  with  their 
heads  to  the  earth  ; '  then  told  he  to  Lugh  the  names  of  the  twelve 
principal  mountains  of  Ireland  which  were  ready  to  do  the  bidding 
of  the  goddess  Dana '  and  to  smite  their  enemies  on  every  side. 


1  Jubainville  translates  Tuatha  De  Danann  by  "  tribes  of  the  goddess 
Dana."  Danann  is  the  genitive  of  Dana,  and  Dana  is  called  the  '•  mother 
of  the  gods,"  but  she  is  not  a  mother  of  the  bulk  of  the  De  Danann 
race,  so  that  Jubainville's  translation  is  a  rather  venturesome  one,  and 
the  Old  Irish  themselves  did  not  take  the  word  in  this  meaning  ;  they 
explained  it  as  "the  men  of  science  who  were  as  it  were  gods."  "Tuatha 
de  Danann,  i.e.,  Dee  in  taes  dana  acus  ande  an  taes  trebtha,"  i.e.,  "  the  men 
of  science  were  (as  it  were)  gods  and  the  laymen  no-gods." 


THE  MYTHOLOGICAL  CYCLE  287 

"  Lugh  asked  the  cup-bearer  :  '  In  what  way  wilt  thou  show  thy 
power  ? ' 

" '  I  shall  place/  answered  the  cup-bearer,  '  the  twelve  principal 
lakes  of  Ireland  under  the  eyes  of  the  Fomorians,  but  they  shall  find 
no  water  in  them,  however  great  the  thirst  which  they  may  feel ; ' 
and  he  enumerated  the  lakes,  '  from  the  Fomorians  the  water  shall 
hide  itself,  they  shall  not  be  able  to  take  a  drop  of  it ;  but  the  same 
lakes  will  furnish  the  Tuatha  De  Danann  with  water  to  drink  during 
the  whole  war,  though  it  should  last  seven  years.' 

"  The  Druid  Figal,  the  son  of  Mamos,  said,  '  I  shall  make  three 
rains  of  fire  fall  on  the  faces  of  the  Fomorian  warriors ;  I  shall  take 
from  them  two-thirds  of  their  valour  and  courage,  but  so  often  as 
the  warriors  of  the  De  Danann  shall  breathe  out  the  air  from  their 
breasts,  so  often  shall  they  feel  their  courage  and  valour  and  strength 
increase.  Even  though  the  war  should  last  seven  years  it  shall  not 
fatigue  them.' 

"  The  Dagda  answered,  '  All  the  feats  which  you  three,  sorcerer, 
cup-bearer,  druid,  say  you  can  do,  I  myself  alone  shall  do  them.' 

" '  It  is  you  then  are  the  Dagda/1  said  those  present,  whence  came 
the  name  of  the  Dagda  which  he  afterwards  bore." 

Lugh  then  went  in  search  of  the  three  gods  of  Dana — 
Brian,  luchar,  and  lucharba  (whom  he  afterwards  put  to 
death  for  slaying  his  father,  as  is  recorded  at  length  in  the 
saga  of  the  u  Fate  of  the  Children  of  Tuireann " 2)  and 
with  these  and  his  other  allies  he  spent  the  next  seven  years 
in  making  preparations  for  the  great  struggle  with  the 
Fomorians. 

This  saga  and  the  whole  story  of  the  Tuatha  De  Danann 
contending  with  the  Fomorians,  who  are  in  one  place  in  the 
saga  actually  called  sidhe,  or  spirits,  is  all  obviously  mytho- 
logical, and  has  usually  been  explained,  by  D'Arbois  de  Jubain- 
ville  and  others,  as  the  struggle  between  the  gods  or  good 
spirits  and  the  evil  deities. 

1  Whitley   Stokes   translates   this  by  "good  hand."      It  is  explained 
as — Dago-devo-s,  " the  good  god."    The   "Dagda,  i.e.,  daigh  de,  i.e.,  dea 
sainemail  ag  na  geinntib  e,"  i.e.,  "  Dagda  ie  ignis  Dei,"  for  "  with  the 
heathen  he  was  a  special  god,"  MS.  16,  Advocates'  Library,  Edinburgh. 

2  Paraphrased  by  me  in  English  verse  in  the  "  Three  Sorrows  of 
Story-telling." 


288     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

The  following  episode  also  shows  the  wild  mythological 
character  of  the  whole. 

"  Dagda,"  says  the  saga,  "  had  a  habitation  at  Glenn-Etin  in  the  north. 
He  had  arranged  to  meet  a  woman  at  Glenn-Etin  on  the  day  of 
Samhan  [November  day]  just  a  year,  day  for  day,  before  the  battle 
of  Moytura.  The  Unius,  a  river  of  Connacht,  flows  close  beside 
Glenn-Etin,  to  the  south.  Dagda  saw  the  woman  bathe  herself  in  the 
Unius  at  [Kesri]  Coran.  One  of  the  woman's  feet  in  the  water 
touched  Allod  Eche,  that  is  to  say  Echumech  to  the  south,  the 
other  foot  also  in  the  water  touched  Lescuin  in  the  north.  Nine 
tresses  floated  loose  around  her  head.  Dagda  approached  and 
accosted  her.  From  thenceforth  the  place  has  been  named  the 
Couple's  Bed.  The  woman  was  the  goddess  Mor-rigu" — 

the  goddess  of  war,  of  whom  we  shall  hear  more  in  connection 
with  Cuchulain. 

As  for  the  Dagda  himself,  his  character  appears  somewhat 
contradictory.  Just  as  the  most  opposite  accounts  of  Zeus  are 
met  with  in  Greek  mythology,  some  glorifying  him  as  thron- 
ing in  Olympus  supreme  over  gods  and  men,  others  as  playing 
low  and  indecent  tricks  disguised  as  a  cuckoo  or  a  bull ;  so  we 
find  the  Dagda — his  real  name  was  Eochaidh  the  Ollamh 
— at  one  time  a  king  of  the  De  Danann  race  and  organiser 
of  victory,  but  at  another  in  a  less  dignified  but  more  clearly 
mythological  position.^  He  is  sent  by  Lugh  to  the  Fomorian 
camp  to  put  them  off  with  talk  and  cause  them  to  lose  time 
until  the  De  Danann  armaments  should  be  more  fully  ready. 
The  following  account  exhibits  him,  like  Zeus  at  times,  in  a 
very  unprepossessing  character  : — 

"  When  the  Dagda  had  come  to  the  camp  of  the  Fomorians  he 
demanded  a  truce,  and  he  obtained  it.  The  Fomorians  prepared 
a  porridge  for  him  ;  it  was  to  ridicule  him  they  did  this,  for  he 
greatly  loved  porridge.  They  filled  for  him  the  king's  cauldron 
which  was  five  handbreadths  in  depth.  They  threw  into  it  eighty 
pots  of  milk  and  a  proportionate  quantity  of  meal  and  fat,  with  goats 
and  sheep  and  swine  which  they  got  cooked  along  with  the  rest. 
Then  they  poured  the  broth  into  a  hole  dug  in  the  ground.  '  Unless 
you  eat  all  that's  there,'  said  Indech  to  him,  'you  shall  be  put  to 


THE  MYTHOLOGICAL   CYCLE  289 

death  ;  we  do  not  want  you  to  be  reproaching  us,  and  we  must 
satisfy  you.'  The  Dagda  took  the  spoon ;  it  was  so  great  that  in  the 
hollow  of  it  a  man  and  a  woman  might  be  contained.  The  pieces 
that  went  into  that  spoon  were  halves  of  salted  pigs  and  quarters  of 
bacon.  The  Dagda  said,  '  Here  is  good  eating,  if  the  broth  be  as 
good  as  its  odour,'  and  as  he  carried  the  spoonful  to  his  mouth,  he 
said,  '  The  proverb  is  true  that  good  cooking  is  not  spoiled  by  a 
bad  pot.' * 

"  When  he  had  finished  he  scraped  the  ground  with  his  finger  to 
the  very  bottom  of  the  hole  to  take  what  remained  of  it,  and  after 
that  he  went  to  sleep  to  digest  his  soup.  His  stomach  was  greater 
than  the  greatest  cauldrons  in  large  houses,  and  the  Fomorians 
mocked  at  him. 

"  He  went  away  and  came  to  the  bank  of  the  Eba.  He  did  not 
walk  with  ease,  so  large  was  his  stomach.  He  was  dressed  in  very 
bad  guise.  He  had  a  cape  which  scarcely  reached  below  his 
shoulders.  Beneath  that  cloak  was  seen  a  brown  mantle  which 
descended  no  lower  than  his  hips.  It  was  cut  away  above  and  very 
large  in  the  breast.  His  two  shoes  were  of  horses'  skin  with  the 
hair  outside.  He  held  a  wheeled  fork,  which  would  have  been 
heavy  enough  for  eight  men,  and  he  let  it  trail  behind  him.  It  dug 
a  furrow  deep  enough  and  large  enough  to  become  the  frontier 
mearn  between  two  provinces.  Therefore  is  it  called  the  '  track  of 
the  Dagda's  club.'" 

When  the  fighting  began,  after  the  skirmishing  of  the  first 
days,  the  De  Danann  warriors  owed  their  victory  to  their 
superior  preparations.  The  great  leech  Diancecht  cured  the 
wounded,  and  the  smith  Goibniu  and  his  assistants  kept  the 
warriors  supplied  with  constant  relays  of  fresh  lances.  The 
Fomorians  could  not  understand  it,  and  sent  one  of  their 
warriors,  apparently  in  disguise,  to  find  out.  He  was  Ruadan, 
a  son  of  Breas  by  a  daughter  of  Dagda. 

"On  his  return  he  told  the  Fomorians  what  the  smith,  the  carpenter, 
the  worker  in  bronze,  and  the  four  leeches  who  were  round  the 
spring,  did.  They  sent  him  back  again  with  orders  to  kill  the  smith 
Goibniu.  He  asked  a  spear  of  Goibniu,  rivets  of  Credne  the  bronze- 
worker,  a  shaft  of  Luchtaine  the  carpenter,  and  they  gave  him 
what  he  asked.  There  was  a  woman  there  busy  in  sharpening  the 

1  Thus  perilously  translated  by  Jubainville  ;  Stokes  does  not  attempt  it. 

T 


290      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

weapons.  She  was  Cron,  mother  of  Fianlug.  She  sharpened  the 
spear  for  Ruadan.  It  was  a  chief  who  handed  Ruadan  the  spear, 
and  thence  the  name  of  chief-spear  given  to  this  day  to  the 
weaver's  beam  in  Erin. 

"When  he  had  got  the  spear  Ruadan  turned  on  Goibniu  and  smote 
him  with  the  weapon.  But  Goibniu  drew  the  javelin  from  the 
wound  and  hurled  it  at  Ruadan  ;  who  was  pierced  from  side  to  side, 
and  escaped  to  die  among  the  Fomorians  in  presence  of  his  father. 
Brig  [his  mother,  the  Dagda's  daughter]  came  and  bewailed  her 
son.  First  she  uttered  a  piercing  cry,  and  thereafter  she  made 
moan.  It  was  then  that  for  the  first  time  in  Ireland  were  heard 
moans  and  cries  of  sorrow.  It  was  that  same  Brig  who  invented 
the  whistle  used  at  night  to  give  alarm  signals" — 

the  mythological  genesis  of  the  saga  is  thus  obviously  marked 
by  the  first  satire,  first  cry  of  sorrow,  and  first  whistle  being 
ascribed  to  the  actors  in  it. 

In  the  end  the  whole  Fomorian  army  moved  to  battle  in 
their  solid  battalions,  "  and  it  was  to  strike  one's  hand  against 
a  rock,  or  thrust  one's  hand  into  a  nest  of  serpents,  or  put 
one's  head  into  the  fire,  to  attack  the  Fomorians  that  day." 
The  battle  is  described  at  length.  Nuada  the  king  of  the  De 
Danann  is  killed  oy  Balor.  Lugh,  whose  counsel  was  con- 
sidered so  valuable  by  the  De  Danann  people  that  they  put  an 
escort  of  nine  round  him  to  prevent  him  from  taking  part  in 
the  fighting,  breaks  away,  and  attacks  Balor  the  Fomorian 
king. 

"  Balor  had  an  evil  eye,  that  eye  only  opened  itself  upon  the 
plain  of  battle.  Four  men  had  to  lift  up  the  eyelid  by  placing 
under  it  an  instrument.  The  warriors,  whom  Balor  scanned 
with  that  eye  once  opened,1  could  not — no  matter  how  numerous 
— resist  their  enemies." 

When  Lugh  had  met  and  exchanged  some  mystical  and 

1  A  legend  well  known  to  the  old  men  of  Gal  way  and  Roscommon,  who 
have  often  related  it  to  me,  tells  us  that  when  Conan  (Finn  mac  Cumhail's 
Thersites)  looked  through  his  fingers  at  the  enemy,  they  were  always 
defeated.  He  himself  did  not  know  this,  nor  any  one  except  Finn,  who 
tried  to  make  use  of  it  without  letting  Conan  know  his  own  power. 


THE  MYTHOLOGICAL   CYCLE  291 

unintelligible  language  with  him,  Balor  said,  "  Raise  my 
eyelid  that  I  may  see  the  braggart  who  speaks  with  me." 

"  His  people  raise  Balor's  eyelid.  Lugh  from  his  sling  lets 
fly  a  stone  at  Balor  which  passes  through  his  head,  carrying 
with  it  the  venomous  eye.  Balor's  army  looked  on."  The 
Mor-rigu,  the  goddess  of  war,  arrives,  and  assists  the  Tuatha  De 
Danann  and  encourages  them.  Ogma  slays  one  of  the 
Fomorian  kings  and  is  slain  himself.  The  battle  is  broken 
at  last  on  the  Fomorians ;  they  fly,  and  Breas  is  taken 
prisoner,  but  his  life  is  spared. 

"  It  was,"  says  the  saga,  "  at  the  battle  of  Moytura  that  Ogma, 
the  strong  man,  found  the  sword  of  Tethra,  the  King  of  the 
Fomorians.  Ogma  drew  that  sword  from  the  sheath  and  cleaned 
it.  It  was  then  that  it  related  to  him  all  the  high  deeds  that  it  had 
accomplished,  for  at  this  time  the  custom  was  when  swords  were 
drawn  from  the  sheath  they  used  to  recite  the  exploits T  they  had 
themselves  been  the  cause  of.  And  thence  comes  the  right  which 
swords  have,  to  be  cleaned  when  they  are  drawn  from  the  sheath  ; 
thence  also  the  magic  power  which  swords  have  preserved  ever 
since  " — 

to  which  curious  piece  of  pagan  superstition  an  evidently 
later  Christian  redactor  adds,  "  weapons  were  the  organs  of 
the  demon  to  speak  to  men.  At  that  time  men  used  to 
worship  weapons,  and  they  were  a  magic  safeguard." 

The  saga  ends  in  the  episode  of  the  recovery  of  the  Dagda's 
harp,  and  in  the  cry  of  triumph  uttered  by  the  Mor-ngu  and 
by  Bodb,  her  fellow-goddess  of  war,  as  they  visited  the  various 
heights  of  Ireland,  the  banks  of  streams,  and  the  mouths  of 
floods  and  great  rivers,  to  proclaim  aloud  their  triumph  and 
the  defeat  of  the  Fomorians. 

M.  d'Arbois  de  Jubainville  sees  in  the  successive  colonisations 
of  Partholan,  the  Nemedians,  and  the  Tuatha  De  Danann,  an 
Irish  version  of  the  Greek  legend  of  the  three  successive  ages 

1  There  is  a  somewhat  similar  passage  ascribing  sensation  to  swords  in 
the  Saga  of  Cuchulain's  sickness. 


292     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

of  gold,  silver,  and  brass.  The  Greek  legend  of  the  Chimaera, 
otherwise  Bellerus,  the  monster  slain  by  Bellerophon,  he 
equates  with  the  Irish  Balor  of  the  evil  eye  ;  the  fire  from  the 
throat  of  Bellerus,  and  the  evil  beam  shot  from  Balor's  eye  may 
originally  have  typified  the  lightning.1 

1  The  First  Battle  of  Moytura,  the  Second  Battle  of  Moytura,  and  the 
Death  of  the  Children  of  Tuireann  are  three  sagas  belonging  to  this  cycle. 
Others,  now  preserved  in  the  digest  of  the  Book  of  Invasions,  are,  the  Pro- 
gress of  Partholan  to  Erin,  the  Progress  of  Nemed  to  Erin,  the  Progress  of 
the  Firbolg,  the  Progress  of  the  Tuatha  De  Danann,  the  Journey  of  Mile- 
son  of  Bile  to  Spain,  the  Journey  of  the  Sons  of  Mile  from  Spain  to  Erin, 
the  Progress  of  the  Cruithnigh  (Picts)  from  Thrace  to  Erin  and  thence 
into  Alba. 


CHAPTER  XXIV 

THE    HEROIC    OR    RED    BRANCH    CYCLE CUCHULAIN       ^ 

THE  mythological  tales  that  we  have  been  glancing  at  deal 
with  the  folk  who  are  fabled  as  having  first  colonised  Erin  ; 
they  treat  of  peoples,  races,  dynasties,  the  struggle  between 
good  and  evil  principles.  The  whole  of  their  creations  are 
thrown  back,  even  by  the  Irish  annalists  themselves,  into  the 
dim  cloud-land  of  an  unplumbed  past,  ages  before  the  dawn 
of  the  first  Olympiad,  or  the  birth  of  the  wolf-suckled  twins 
who  founded  Rome.  There  is  over  it  all  a  shadowy  sense  of 
vagueness,  vastness,  uncertainty. 

The  Heroic  Cycle,  on  the  other  hand,  deals  with  the  history 
of  the  Milesians  themselves,  the  present  Irish  race,  within  a  _ 
well-defined  space  of  time,  upon  their  own  ground,  and  though 
it  does  not  exactly  fall  within  the  historical  period,  yet  it  does 
not  come  so  far  short  of  it  that  it  can  be  with  any  certainty 
rejected  as  pure  work  of  imagination  or  poetic  fiction.  It  is 
certainly  the  finest  of  the  three  greater  saga-cycles,  and  the  — 
epics  that  belong  to  it  are  sharply  drawn,  numerous,  clear  cut, 
and  ancient,  and  for  the  first  time  we  seem,  at  least,  to  find 
ourselves  upon  historical  ground,  although  a  good  deal  of  this 
seeming  may  turn  out  to  be  illusory.  Yet  the  figures  of 
Cuchulain,  Conor  mac  Nessa,  Naoise,  and  Deirdre,  Meve, 

293 


294     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

Oilioll,  and  Conall  Cearnach,  have  about  them  a  great  deal  of 
the  circumstantiality  that  is  entirely  lacking  to  the  dim,  mist- 
magnified,  and  distorted  figures  of  the  Dagda,  Nuada,  Lugh 
the  Long-handed,  and  their  fellows. 

The  gods  come  and  go  as  in  the  Iliad,  and  according  to 
some  accounts  leave  their  posterity  behind  them.  Cuchulain 
himself,  the  incarnation  of  Irish  apicrriiuy  is  according  to 
certain  authorities  the  son  of  the  god  Lugh  the  Long-handed.1 
He  himself,  like  another  Anchises,  is  beloved  of  a  goddess  and 
descends  into  the  Gaelic  Elysium,2  and  the  most  important 
epic  of  the  cycle  is  largely  conditioned  by  an  occurrence 
caused  by  the  curse  of  a  goddess,  an  occurrence  wholly  im- 
possible and  supernatural.3  Yet  these  are  for  the  most  part 
excrescences  no  more  affecting  the  conduct  of  the  history 
than  the  actions  of  the  gods  affect  the  war  round  Troy. 
Events,  upon  the  whole,  are  motivated  upon  fairly  reasonable 
human  grounds,  and  there  is  a  certain  air  of  probability 
about  them.  The  characters  who  now  make  their  appearance 
upon  the  scene  are  not  long  prior  to,  or  are  contemporaneous 

1  See  "  Compert  Conculaind,"  by  Windisch  in  "  Irische  Texte,"  t.  i.  p. 
134,  and  Jubainville's  "  Epopee  Celtique  en  Irlande,"  p.  22. 

2  See  the  story  of  Cuchulain's  sick-bed,  translated  by  O'Curry  in  the  first 
volume  of  the  "  Atlantis,"  and  by  Mr.  O'Looney  in  Sir  J.  Gilbert's  "  Fac- 
similes of  the  National  MSS.  of  Ireland,"  and  by  Windisch  in  "  Irische 
Texte,"  vol.  i.,  pp.  195-234,  and  by  M.  de  Jubainville  in  his  "  Epopee 
Celtique,"  p.  174,  and  lastly,  Mr.  Nutt's  "  Voyage  of  Bran,"  vol.  ii.,  p.  38. 

3  This  is  the  periodic  curse  which  overtook  the  Ulstermen  at  certain 
periods,  rendering  them  feeble  as  a  woman  in  child-bed,  in  consequence 
of  the  malediction  of  the  goddess  Macha,  who  was,  just  before  the  birth  of 
her  children,  inhumanly  obliged  by  the  Ultonians  to  run  against  the  king's 
horses.    The  only  people  of  the  northern  province  free  from  this  curse 
were  the  children  born  before  the  curse  was  uttered,  the  women,  arid  the 
hero  Cuchulain.     It  transmitted  itself  from  father  to  son  for  nine  genera- 
tions, and  is  said  to  have  lasted  five  nights  and  four  days,  or  four  nights 
and  five  days.    But  one  would  think  from  the  Tain  Bo  Chuailgne  that  it 
must  have  lasted  much  longer.     For  this  curse  see  Jubainville's  "  Epopee 
Celtique,"  p.  320.     I  was,  not  long  ago,  told  a  story  by  a  peasant  in  the 
county  Galway  not  unlike  it,  only  it  was  related  of  the  mother  of  the 
celebrated  boxer  Donnelly. 


THE  RED  BRANCH  CYCLE— CUCHULAIN    295 

with,  the  birth  of  Christ ;  and  the  wars  of  the  Tuatha  De 
Danann,  Nemedians,  and  Fomorians,  are  left  some  seventeen 
hundred  years  behind. 

This  cycle,  which  I  have  called  the  "  Heroic  "  or  "  Red 
Branch,"  might  also  be  named  the  "  Ultonian,"  because  it 
deals  chiefly  with  the  heroes  of  the  northern  province.  One 
saga  relates  the  birth  of  Conor  mac  Nessa.  His  mother  was 
Ness  and  his  father  was  Fachtna  Fathach,  king  of  Ulster,  but 
according  to  what  is  probably  the  oldest  account,  his  father 
was  Cathba  the  Druid.  This  saga  relates  how,  through  the 
stratagem  of  his  mother  Ness,  Conor  slipped  into  the  kingship 
of  Ulster,  displacing  Fergus  mac  Roigh  [Roy],  the  former  king, 
who  is  here  represented  as  a  good-natured  giant,  but  who  appears 
human  enough  in  the  other  sagas.1  Conor's  palace  is  described 
with  its  three  buildings ;  that  of  the  Red  Branch,  where  were 
kept  the  heads  and  arms  of  vanquished  enemies ;  that  of  the 
Royal  Branch,  where  the  kings  lodged  ;  and  that  of  the 
Speckled  House,  where  were  laid  up  the  shields  and  spears 
and  swords  of  the  warriors  of  Ulster.  It  was  called  the 
Speckled  or  Variegated  House  from  the  gold  and  silver  of  the 
shields,  and  gleaming  of  the  spears,  and  shining  of  the  goblets, 
and  all  arms  were  kept  in  it,  in  order  that  at  the  banquet 
when  quarrels  arose  the  warriors  might  not  have  wherewith 
to  slay  each  other. 

Conor's  palace  at  Emania  contained,  according  to  the  Book 
of  Leinster,  one  hundred  and  fifty  rooms,  each  large  enough 
for  three  couples  to  sleep  in,  constructed  of  red  oak,  and 
bordered  with  copper.  Conor's  own  chamber  was  decorated 
with  bronze  and  silver,  and  ornamented  with  golden  birds,  in 
whose  eyes  were  precious  stones,  and  was  large  enough  for  thirty 

1  Except  in  one  place  in  the  Tain  Bo  Chuailgne,  where  his  sword  is 
spoken  of,  which  was  like  a  thread  in  his  hand,  but  which  when  he  smote 
with  it  extended  itself  to  the  size  of  a  rainbow,  with  three  blows  of  which 
upon  the  ground  he  raised  three  hills.  The  description  of  Fergus  in  the 
Conor  story  preserved  in  the  Book  of  Leinster,  is  simply  and  frankly 
that  of  a  giant  many  times  the  size  of  an  ordinary  man. 


296      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

warriors  to  drink  together  in  it.  Above  the  king's  head  hung 
his  silver  wand  with  three  golden  apples,  and  when  he  shook 
it  silence  reigned  throughout  the  palace,  so  that  even  the  fall 
of  a  pin  might  be  heard.  A  large  vat,  always  full  of  good 
drink,  stood  ever  on  the  palace  floor. 

Another  story  tells  of  Cuchulain's  mysterious  parentage. 
His  mother  was  a  sister  of  King  Conor  ;  consequently  he  was 
the  king's  nephew. 

Another  again  relates  the  wooing  of  Cuchulain,  and  how 
;  he  won  Emer  for  his  wife. 

Another  is  called  Cuchulain's  "Up-bringing,"  or  teaching,  part 
of  which,  however,  is  found  in  the  piece  called  the  "  Wooing 
of  Emer."  This  saga  relates  how  he,  with  two  other  of  the 
Ultonians,  went  abroad  to  Alba  to  perfect  their  warlike 
accomplishments,  and  how  they  placed  themselves  under  the 
tuition  of  different  female-warriors,1  who  taught  them  various 
and  extraordinary  feats  of  arms.  He  traverses  the  plain  ot 
Misfortune  by  the  aid  of  a  wheel  and  of  an  apple  given  him 
by  an  unknown  friend,  and  reaches  the  great  female  instructress 
Scathach,  whose  daughter  falls  in  love  with  him. 

An  admirable  example  occurs  to  me  here,  of  showing  in  the 
concrete  that  which  I  have  elsewhere  laid  stress  upon,  namely, 
the  great  elaboration  which  in  many  instances  we  find  in  the 
modern  versions  of  sagas,  compared  with  the  antique  vellum 
texts.  It  does  not  at  all  follow  that  because  a  story  is  written 
down  with  brevity  in  ancient  Irish,  it  was  also  told  with 
brevity.  The  oldest  form  of  the  saga  of  Cuchulain's  "  Wooing 
of  Emer"  contains  traces  of  a  pre-Danish  or  seventh-century 
text,  but  the  condensed  and  shortened  relation  of  the  saga 
found  in  the  oldest  manuscript  of  it,  is  almost  certainly  not 
the  form  in  which  the  bards  and  ollavs  related  it.  On  the 
contrary,  I  believe  that  the  stories  now  epitomised  in  ancient 
vellum  texts  were  even  then  told,  though  not  written  down, 

1  The  female  warrior  and  war-teacher  was  not  uncommon  among  the 
Celts,  as  the  examples  of  Boadicea  and  of  Meve  of  Connacht  show. 


THE  RED  BRANCH  CYCLE— CUCHULAIN    297 

at  full  length,  and  with  many  flourishes  by  the  bards  and 
professed  story-tellers,  and  that  the  skeletons  merely,  or  as 
Keating  calls  it,  the  "  bones  of  the  history,"  *  were  in  most 
instances  all  that  was  committed  to  the  rare  and  expensive 
parchments.  It  is  more  than  likely  that  the  longer  modern 
paper  redactions,  though  some  of  the  ancient  pagan  traits, 
especially  those  most  incomprehensible  to  the  moderns,  may 
be  missing,  yet  represent  more  nearly  the  manner  of  the 
original  bardic  telling,  than  the  abridgments  of  twelfth  or 
thirteenth-century  vellums. 

In  this  case  the  ancient  recension,2  founded  on  a  pre-Danish 
text,  merely  mentions  that  Scathach's  house,  at  which  Cuchulain 
arrives,  after  leaving  the  plain  of  Misfortune, 

"was  built  upon  a  rock  of  appalling  height.  Cuchulain  followed 
the  road  pointed  out  to  him.  He  reached  the  castle  of  Scathach. 
He  knocked  at  the  door  with  the  handle  of  his  spear  and  entered. 
Uathach,  the  daughter  of  Scathach,  meets  him.  She  looked  at  him, 
but  she  spoke  not,  so  much  did  the  hero's  beauty  make  her  love 
him.  She  went  to  her  mother  and  told  her  of  the  beauty  of  the  man 
who  had  newly  come.  '  That  man  has  pleased  you,'  said  her  mother. 
'  He  shall  come  to  my  couch/  answered  the  girl,  '  and  I  shall  sleep 
at  his  side  this  night.'  '  Thy  intention  displeases  me  not,'  said  her 
mother." 

One  can  see  at  a  glance  how  bald  and  brief  is  all  this,  because 
it  is  a  precis,  and  vellum  was  scarce.  I  venture  to  say  that  no 
bard  ever  told  it  in  this  way.  The  scribes  who  first  committed 
this  to  parchment,  say  in  the  seventh  or  eighth  century,  probably 
wrote  down  only  the  leading  incidents  as  they  remembered 
them.  They  may  not  have  been  themselves  either  bards, 
ollavs,  or  story-tellers.  It  is  chiefly  in  the  later  centuries, 
after  the  introduction  of  paper,  when  the  economising  of 
space  ceased  to  be  a  matter  of  importance,  that  we  find  our 
sagas  told  with  all  the  redundancy  of  description,  epithet,  and 
incident  with  which  I  suspect  the  very  earliest  bards  em- 
bellished all  those  sagas  of  which  we  have  now  only  little  more 
1  "  Cnamha  an  tseanchusa."  3  Rawlinson,  B.  512. 


298      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

\ 

than  the  skeletons.  Compare,  for  instance,  the  ancient  version 
which  I  have  just  given,  with  the  longer  modern  versions  which 
have  come  down  to  us  in  several  paper  manuscripts,  of  which  I 
here  use  one  in  my  own  possession,  copied  about  the  beginning 
of  the  century  by  a  scribe  named  O'Mahon,  upon  one  of  the 
islands  on  the  Shannon. 

In  the  first  place  this  version  tells  us  that  on  his  arrival  at 
Scathach's  mansion  he  finds  a  number  of  her  scholars  and  other 
warriors  engaged  in  hurling  outside  the  door  of  her  fortress. 
He  joins  in  the  game  and  defeats  them — this  is  a  true  folk-lore 
introduction.  He  finds  there  Naoise,  Ardan,  and  Ainnle,  the 
three  sons  of  Usnach,  celebrated  in  perhaps  the  most  touching 
saga  of  this  whole  cycle,  and  another  son  of  Erin  with  them. 
This  is  a  literary  touch,  by  one  who  knew  his  literature.1 
Learning  that  he  is  come  from  Erin,  they  ask  news  of  their  native 
country,  and  salute  him  with  kisses.  They  then  bring  him  to 
the  Bridge  of  the  Cliffs,  and  show  him  what  their  work  is 
during  the  first  year,  which  was  learning  to  pass  this  bridge. 

"  Wonderful,"  says  the  saga,  "  was  the  sight  that  bridge  afforded 
when  any  one  would  leap  upon  it,  for  it  narrowed  until  it  became  as 
narrow  as  the  hair  of  one's  head,  and  the  second  time  it  shortened 
until  it  became  as  short  as  an  inch,  and  the  third  time  it  grew 
slippery  until  it  was  as  slippery  as  an  eel  of  the  river,  and  the 
fourth  time  it  rose  up  on  high  against  you  until  it  was  as  tall  as  the 
mast  of  a  ship." 

All  the  warriors  and  people  on  the  lawn  came  down  to  see 
Cuchulain  attempting  to  cross  this  bridge.  In  the  meantime 
Scathach's  grianan  or  sunny  house  is  described :  "  It  had  seven 
great  doors,  and  seven  great  windows  between  every  two  doors 
of  them,  and  thrice  fifty  couches  between  every  two  windows 
of  them,  and  thrice  fifty  handsome  marriageable  girls,  in  scarlet 
cloaks,  and  in  beautiful  and  blue  attire,  attending  and  waiting 
upon  Scathach." 

1  For  Deirdre  in  her  lament  over  the  three  does  call  them  "  three 
pupils  of  Scathach." 


THE  RED  BRANCH  CYCLE— CUCHULAIN    299 

Then  Scathach's  lovely  daughter,  looking  from  the  windows 
of  the  grianan,  perceives  the  stranger  attempting  the  feat  of 
the  bridge,  and  she  falls  in  love  with  him  upon  the  spot.  Her 
emotions  are  thus  described  :  "  Her  face  and  colour  constantly 
changed,  so  that  now  she  would  be  as  white  as  a  little  white 
flowret,  and  again  she  would  become  scarlet,"  and  in  the  work 
she  was  embroidering  she  put  the  gold  thread  where  the  silver 
thread  should  be,  and  the  silver  thread  into  the  place  where 
the  gold  thread  should  go ;  and  when  her  mother  notices  it, 
she  excuses  herself  by  saying  beautifully,  "I  would  greatly 
grieve  should  he  not  return  alive  to  his  own  people,  in  what- 
ever part  of  the  world  they  may  be,  for  I  know  that  there 
is  some  one  to  whom  it  would  be  anguish  to  know  that  he 
is  thus." 

This  refined  reflection  of  the  girl  we  may  with  certainty 
ascribe  to  the  growth  of  modern  sentiment,  and  it  is  extremely 
instructive  to  compare  it  with  the  ancient,  and  no  doubt  really 
pagan  version  ;  but  I  strongly  suspect  that  the  bridge  over  the 
cliffs  is  no  modern  embellishment  at  all,  but  part  of  the  original 
saga,  though  omitted  from  the  pre-Norse  text  which  only  tells  us 
that  Scathach's  house  was  on  the  top  of  a  rock  of  appalling 
height. 

It  was  during  this  sojourn  of  Cuchulain  in  foreign  lands 
that  he  overcame  the  heroine  Aoife,1  and  forced  her  into  a 
marriage  with  himself.  He  returned  home  afterwards,  having 
left  instructions  with  her  to  keep  the  child  she  should  bear 
him,  if  it  were  a  daughter,  "  for  with  every  mother  goes  the 
daughter,"  but  if  it  were  a  son  she  was  to  rear  him  until  he 
should  be  able  to  perform  certain  hero-feats,  and  until  his 
finger  should  be  large  enough  to  fill  a  ring  which  Cuchulain 
left  with  her  for  him.  Then  she  was  to  send  him  into 
Erin,  and  bid  him  tell  no  man  who  he  was ;  also  he  desired 

1  Pronounced  "  Eefa."  The  triphthong  aoi  has  always  the  sound  of  ce 
in  English.  The  stepmother  of  the  Children  of  Lir  was  also  called 
Aoife. 


300     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

her  not  to  teach  him  the  feat  of  the  Gae-Bulg,  "but, 
however,"  says  the  saga,  "  it  was  ill  that  command  turned 
out,  for  it  was  of  that  it  came  to  pass  that  Conlaoch  [the  son] 
fell  by  Cuchulain." * 

I  know  of  no  prose  saga  of  the  touching  story  of  the  death 
of  this  son,  slain  by  his  own  father,  except  the  resume  given  of 
it  by  Keating,2  but  there  exists  a  poem  or  Epopee  upon  the 
subject  which  was  always  a  great  favourite  with  the  Irish 
scribes,  and  of  which  numerous  but  not  ancient  copies  exist. 
This  is  the  Irish  Sohrab  and  Rustum,  the  Celtic  Hildebrand 
and  Hadubrand.  The  son  comes  into  Ireland,  but  in  con- 
sequence of  his  mother's  command,  refuses  to  tell  his  name. 
This  is  looked  upon  as  indicating  hostility,  and  many  of  the 
Ultonians  fight  with  him,  but  he  overcomes  them  all,  even  the 
great  Conall  Cearnach.  Conor  in  despair  sends  for  Cuchulain, 
who  with  difficulty  slays  him  by  the  feat  of  the  Gae-Bolg, 
and  then  finds  out  when  too  late  that  the  dying  champion  is 
his  own  son.  So  familiar  to  the  modern  Irish  scribes  was  this 
piece  that  in  my  copy,  in  the  last  verse,  which  ends  with 
Cuchulain's  lament  over  his  son — 

"  I  am  the  bark  (buffeted)  from  wave  to  wave, 
I  am  the  ship  after  the  losing  of  its  rudder, 


1  I  quote  this  from  my  paper  version.     The  oldest  text  only  says  that 
"  Cuchulain  told  her  that  she  should  bear  him  a  son,  and  that  upon  a 
certain  day  in  seven  years'  time  that  son  should  go  to  him ;  he  told  her  what 
name  she  should  give  him,  and  then  he  went  away." 

2  P.  279  of  John  O'Mahony's  edition,  translated  also  by  M.  de  Jubain- 
ville  in  his  "  Epopee  Celtique,"  who  comparing  the  Irish  story  with  its 
Germanic  counterpart  expresses  himself  strongly  on  their  relative  merits  : 
"  Tout  est  puissant,  logique,  primitif,  dans  la  piece  irlandaise ;  sa  concord- 
ance avec  la  piece  persanne  atteste  une  haute  antiquite.     Elle  peut  remonter 
aux  epoques  celtiques  les  plus  anciennes,  et  avoir  ete  du  nombre  des 
carmina  chantes  par  les  Gaulois  a  la  bataille  de  Clusium  en  295  av.  J. — C. 
Le  poeme  allemand  dont  on  a  une  copie  du  huitieme  siecle  est  une 
imitation  inintelligente  et  affaiblie  du  chant  celtique  qui  a  du  retentir  sur 
les  rives  du  Danube  et  du  Mein  mille  ans  plus  tot,  et  dont  la  redaction 
germanique    est  1'ceuvre  de    quelque    naif    Macpherson,    predecesseur 
honnetement  inhabile  de  celui  du  dix-huitieme  siecle." 


THE  RED  BRANCH  CYCLE— CUCHULAIN    301 

I  am  the  apple  upon  the  top  of  the  tree 
That  little  thought  of  its  falling."  * 

instead  of  the  text  of  the  third  line  stands  a  rough  picture  of  a 
tree  with  a  large  apple  on  the  top  ! 

Another  saga2  tells  of  Cuchulain's  geasa  [gassa]  or  restric- 
tions. It  was  gels  or  tabu  to  him  to  narrate  his  genealogy 
to  one  champion,  as  it  was  also  to  his  son  Conlaoch,  to  refuse 
combat  to  any  one  man,  to  look  upon  the  exposed  bosom  of 
a  woman,  to  come  into  a  company  without  a  second  invita- 
tion, to  accept  the  hospitality  of  virgins,  to  boast  to  a  woman, 
to  let  the  sun  rise  before  him  in  E mania,  he  must  when  there 
rise  before  it,  etc.  There  is  in  this  saga  a  graphic  description 
of  the  pagan  king's  retinue  journeying  with  him  to  be  fed  in 
the  house  of  a  retainer. 

"  All  the  Ultonian  nobles  set  out ;  a  great  train  of  provincials,  sons 
of  kings  and  chiefs,  young  lords  and  men-at-arms,  the  curled  and 
rosy  youth  of  the  kingdom,  and  the  maidens  and  fair  ringleted 
ladies  of  Ulster.  Handsome  virgins,  accomplished  damsels,  and 
splendid,  fully-developed  women  were  there.  Satirists  and  scholars 
were  there,  and  the  companies  of  singers  and  musicians,  poets  who 
composed  songs  and  reproofs,  and  praising-poems  for  the  men  of 
Ulster.  There  came  also  with  them  from  Emania  historians,  judges, 
horse-riders,  buffoons,  tumblers,  fools,  and  performers  on  horseback. 
They  all  went  by  the  same  way,  behind  the  king."  3 

Dismissing  Cuchulain  for  the  present,  we  pass  on  now  to 
another  personality  of  the  Red  Branch  saga — the  Lady 
D&rdre. 

1  "  Is  me  an  bare  o  thuinn  go  tuinn, 
Is  me  an  long  iar  ndul  d'a  stiur. 
Is  me  an  t-ubhall  i  mbarr  an  chroinn 
Is  beag  do  shaoil  a  thuitim." 

See  Miss  Brooke's  "Reliquesof  Ancient  Irish  Poetry,"  2nd  ed.  p.  393. 
See  also  Kuno  Meyer's  note  at  p.  xv  of  his  edition  of  Cath  Finntragha,  in 
which  he  bears  further  evidence  to  the  antiquity  and  persistence  of  this 
story. 

2  See  the  Book  of  Leinster,  107-111,  a  MS.  copied  about  the  year  1150. 

3  Thus  translated  by  my  late  lamented  friend  and  accomplished  scholar 
Father  James  Keegan  of  St.  Louis. 


CHAPTER    XXV 

DEIRDRE 

ONE  of  the  key-stone  stories  of  the  Red  Branch  Cycle  is 
D&rdre,  or  the  Fate  of  the  Children  of  Usnach.  Cuchulain, 
though  he  appears  in  this  saga,  is  not  a  prominent  figure  in  it. 
This  piece  is  perhaps  the  finest,  most  pathetic,  and  best- 
conceived  of  any  in  the  whole  range  of  our  literature.  But 
like  much  of  that  literature  it  exists  in  the  most  various 
recensions,  and  there  are  different  accounts  given  of  the  death 
of  all  the  principal  characters. 

This  saga  commences  with  the  birth  of  D£irdre.  King 
Conor  and  his  Ultonians  had  gone  to  drink  and  feast  in  the 
house  of  Felim,  Conor's  chief  story-teller,  and  during  their 
stay  there  Felim's  wife  gives  birth  to  a  daughter.  Cathba  the 
Druid  prophesies  concerning  the  infant,  and  foretells  that  much 
woe  and  great  calamities  shall  yet  come  upon  Ulster  because 
of  her.  He  names  her  Deirdre.1  The  Ultonians  are  smitten 
with  horror  at  his  prophecies,  and  order  her  to  be  instantly  put 
to  death.  The  most  ancient  text,  that  of  the  twelfth-century 
Book  of  Leinster,  tells  the  beginning  of  this  saga  exceedingly 
tersely. 

1  Pronounced  "  Dare-dra,"  said  to  mean  "  alarm."  Jubainville  translates  it 
1 '  Celle-qui-se-debat." 


DblRDRE  303 

"  '  Let  the  girl  be  slain/  cried  the  warriors.  '  Not  so,'  said  King 
Conor,  '  but  bring  ye  her  to  me  to-morrow  ;  she  shall  be  brought  up 
as  I  shall  order,  and  she  shall  be  the  woman  whom  I  shall  marry.' 
The  Ultonians  ventured  not  to  contradict  the  King  ;  they  did  as  he 
commanded. 

"  Deirdre  was  brought  up  in  Conor's  house.  She  became  the 
handsomest  maiden  in  Ireland.  She  was  reared  in  a  house  apart :  no 
man  was  allowed  to  see  her  until  she  should  become  Conor's  wife. 
No  one  was  permitted  to  enter  the  house  except  her  tutor,  her  nurse, 
and  Lavarcam,1  whom  they  ventured  not  to  keep  out,  for  she  was  a 
druidess  magician  whose  incantations  they  feared. 

"  One  winter  day  Deirdre' s  tutor  slew  a  young  tender  calf  upon 
the  snow  outside  the  house,  which  he  was  to  cook  for  his  pupil. 
She  beheld  a  raven  drinking  the  blood  upon  the  snow.  She  said  to 
Lavarcam,  '  The  only  man  I  could  love  would  be  one  who  should 
have  those  three  colours,  hair  black  as  the  raven,  cheeks  red  as  the 
blood,  body  white  as  the  snow.'  'Thou  hast  an  opportunity,' 
answered  Lavarcam,  '  the  man  whom  thou  desirest  is  not  far  off, 
he  is  close  to  thee  in  the  palace  itself ;  he  is  Naesi,  son  of  Usnach.' 
'  I  shall  not  be  happy,'  answered  Deirdre,  '  until  I  have  seen  him.' " 

This  famous  story  "  which  is  known,"  as  Dr.  Cameron  puts 
it,  "over  all  the  lands  of  the  Gael",  both  in  Ireland  and 
Scotland,"2  has  been  more  fortunate  than  any  other  in  the 
whole  range  of  Irish  literature,  for  it  has  engaged  the  attention 
of,  and  been  edited  from  different  texts  by,  nearly  every  great 
Celtic  scholar  of  this  century.3  Yet  I  luckily  discovered  last 

1  In  the  older  form  Leborcham.    She  is  generally  described  as  Conor's 
messenger  ;  in  one  place  she  is  called  his  bean-cainte  or  "talking-woman  "  ; 
this  is  the  only  passage  I  know  of  in  which  she  is  credited  with  any  higher 
powers.    She  is  said  elsewhere  to  have  been  the  daughter  of  two  slaves  of 
Conor's  household,  Oa  or  Aue  and  Adarc. 

2  Yet  when  in  Trinity  College  Dublin,  a  few  years  ago,  the  subject — the 
first  Irish  subject  for  twenty-seven  years — set  for  the  Vice-Chancellor's 
Prize  in  English  verse  was  "  Deirdre,"  it  was  found  that  the  students  did 
not  know  what  that  word  meant,  or  what  Deirdre  was,  whether  animal, 
vegetable,  or  mineral.    So  true  it  is  that,  despite  all  the  efforts  of  Davis 
and  his  fellows,  there  are  yet  two  nations  in  Ireland.    Trinity  College 
might  to  some  extent  bridge  the  gap  if  she  would,  but  she  has  carefully 
refrained  from  attempting  it. 

3  O' Flanagan  first  printed  two  versions  of  it  in  the  solitary  volume 
which  comprises  the  4<  Transactions  of  the  Gaelic  Society,"  as  early  as 


304     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

year  in  the  museum  in  Belfast  by  far  the  amplest  and  most 
graphic  version  of  them  all,  bound  up  with  some  other  pieces 
of  different  dates.  It  was  copied  at  the  end  of  the  last  or  the 
beginning  of  the  present  century  by  a  northern  scribe,  from 
a  copy  which  must  have  been  fairly  old  to  judge  from  the 
language  and  from  the  glosses  in  the  margin.  I  give  here  a 
literal  translation  of  the  opening  of  the  story  from  this  manu- 
script, and  it  is  an  admirable  example  of  the  later  extension  anc 
embellishment  of  the  ancient  texts. 
THE  OPENING  OF  THE  FATE  OF  THE  SONS  OF  USNACH, 

FROM  A  MS.  IN  THE  BELFAST  MUSEUM. 
«  Once  upon  a  time  Conor,  son  of  Fachtna,  and  the  nobles  of  the 
Red  Branch,  went  to  a  feast  to  the  house  of  Feidhlim,  the  son 

1808.    The  older  of  these  two  versions  agrees  closely  with  thai -contained 
in  «  E^erton  1782,"  of  the  British  Museum,  but  neither  of  the  MSS.  which 
he  ufed  is  now  known  to  exist.     Eugene  O' Curry  edited  the  story  from 
the  text  in  the  Yellow  Book  of  Lecan,  with  a  translation  in  the    Atlant  s, 
a  lonf defunct  Irish  periodical.     Windisch  edited    the  oldest  existing 
version  that  of  the  Book  of  Leinster,  in  the  first  volume  of  « Insche  Texte 
None  of  these  three  versions  differ  appreciably.    In  the  second  volume  o 
the  same  Dr.  Whitley  Stokes  edited  a  consecutive  text  from  56  and 
of  the  MSS.  in  the  Advocates'  Library  at  Edinburgh,  the  latter  of  whic 
a  vellum  of  the  fifteenth  century.    Finally,  the  text  of  both  these  MSS. 
was  published  in  full  in  vol.  ii.  of  Dr.  Cameron's  «  Reliquiae  Celt, 
where  he  also  gives  a  translation  of  the  first.    Keating,  too  in  his  history 
retefls  the  story  at  considerable   length.      Windisch's,   O  Curry  s    and 
Organ's  texts  were  reprinted  in  1883  in  the  ••  Gaelic  Journal/'    In 
addition  to  all  these  Mr.  Carmichael  published  in  Gaelic  in   1887  an 
adm   able  folk-lore  version  of  the  story  from  the  Isles  of  Scotland  in  the 
thirteenth  volume  of  the  "  Transactions  of  the  Inverness  Gaelic  Society 
and  the  tale  is  retold  in  English,  chiefly  from  this  version,  by  Mr    Jacobs 
L  the  first  series  of  his  -  Celtic  Fairy  Tales."     M.  d'Arbois  de  Jubamville 
has  given  a  French  translation  of  the  entire  story  from  the  Book  of 
Le  nSer  the  older  Edinburgh  MS,  and  the  Highland  Folktale,  the  latter 
two  being  translated  by  M.  Georges  Dottin.    Macpherson  made  this  story 
he  foundation  of  his  "Darthula."   Dr.  Dwyer  Joyce  published  the  story  m 
America  as  an  English  poem.     Sir  Samuel  Ferguson,  Dr.  Todhunter,  and 
fhTpresent  writer  have  all  published  adaptations  of  it  in  English  verse, 
andMr  Rolkstonmade  it  the  subject  of  the  Prize  Cantata  at  the  Feis 
CeoiHn  Dublin  in  1897.     Hence  I  may  print  here  this  new  and  full  open- 
ing  of  a  piece  so  celebrated.    For  text  see  Zat.  /.  Celt.  Phil.  II.  i,  p.  142. 


DEIRDRE  305 

Doll,  the  king's  principal  story-teller  ;  and  the  King  and  people  were 
merry  and  light  hearted,  eating  that  feast  in  the  house  of  the  prin- 
cipal story-teller,  with  gentle  music  of  the  musicians,  and  with  the 
melody  of  the  voices  of  the  bards  and  the  ollavs,  with  the  delight  of 
the  speech  and  ancient  tales  of  the  sages,  and  of  those  who  read  the 
keenes  (?)  (written  on)  flags  and  books  ;  (listening)  to  the  prognosti- 
cations of  the  druids  and  of  those  who  numbered  the  moon  and 
stars.  And  at  the  time  when  the  assembly  were  merry  and  pleasant 
in  general  it  chanced  that  Feidhlim's  wife  bore  a  beautiful,  well- 
shaped  daughter,  during  the  feast.  Up  rises  expeditiously  the  gentle 
Cathfaidh,  the  Head-druid  of  Erin,  who  chanced  to  be  present  in  the 
assembly  at  that  time,  and  a  bundle  of  his  ancient  .  .  .  ?  fairy  books 
in  his  left  hand  with  him,  and  out  he  goes  on  the  border  of  the  rath 
to  minutely  observe  and  closely  scrutinise  the  clouds  of  the  air,  the 
position  of  the  stars  and  the  age  of  the  moon,  to  gain  a  prognos- 
tication and  a  knowledge  of  the  fate  that  was  in  store  for  the  child 
who  was  born  there.  Cathfaidh  then  returns  quickly  to  all  in 
presence  of  the  King  and  told  them  an  omen  and  prophecy,  that 
many  hurts  and  losses  should  come  to  the  province  of  Ulster  on 
account  of  the  girl  that  was  born  there.  On  the  nobles  of  Ulster 
receiving  this  prophecy  they  resolved  on  the  plan  of  destroying  the 
infant,  and  the  heroes  of  the  Red  Branch  bade  slay  her  without 
delay. 

" '  Let  it  not  be  so  done,'  says  the  King  ;  '  it  is  not  laudable  to  fight 
against  fate,  and  woe  to  him  who  would  destroy  an  innocent  infant, 
for  agreeable  is  the  appearance  and  the  laugh  of  the  child  ;  alas  !  it 
were  a  pity  to  quench  her  (life).  Observe,  O  ye  Nobles  of  Ulster, 
and  listen  to  me,  O  ye  valiant  heroes  of  the  Red  Branch,  and  under- 
stand that  I  still  submit  to  the  omen  of  the  prophecies  and  fore- 
tellings  of  the  seers,  but  yet  I  do  not  submit  to,  nor  do  I  praise,  the 
committing  of  a  base  deed,  or  a  deed  of  treachery,  in  the  hope  of 
quenching  the  anger  of  the  power  of  the  elements.  If  it  be  a  fate 
which  it  is  not  possible  to  avoid,  give  ye,  each  of  you,  death  to 
himself,  but  do  not  shed  the  blood  of  the  innocent  infant,  for  it  were 
not  (our)  due  (to  have)  prosperity  thereafter.  I  proclaim  to  you, 
moreover,  O  ye  nobles  of  Emania,  that  I  take  the  girl  under  my 
own  protection  from  henceforth,  and  if  I  and  she  live  and  last,  it 
may  be  that  I  shall  have  her  as  my  one- wife  and  gentle  consort. 
Therefore,  I  assure  the  men  of  Erin  by  the  securities  of  the  moon 
and  sun,  that  any  one  who  would  venture  to  destroy  her  either  now 
or  again,  shall  neither  live  nor  last,  if  I  survive  her.' 

"  The  nobles  of  Ulster,  and  every  one  in  general  listened  silent  and 
mute,  until  Conall  Cearnach,  Fergus  mac  Roigh,  and  the  heroes  of 
the  Red  Branch  rose  up  together,  and  'twas  what  they  said, '  O  High- 
er 


306      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

king  of  Ulster,  right  is  thy  judgment,  and  it  is  (our)  due  to  observe 
it,  and  let  it  be  thy  will  that  is  done.' 

"  As  for  the  girl,  Conor  took  her  under  his  own  protection,  and 
placed  her  in  a  moat  apart,  to  be  brought  up  by  his  nurse,  whose 
name  was  Lavarcam,  in  a  fortress  of  the  Red  Branch,  and  Conor 
and  Cathfaidh  the  druid  gave  her  the  name  of  Deirdre.  Afterwards 
Deirdre  was  being  generously  nurtured  under  Lavarcam  and  (other) 
ladies,  perfecting  her  in  every  science  that  was  fitting  for  the 
daughter  of  a  high  prince,  until  she  grew  up  a  blossom-bearing 
sapling,  and  until  her  beauty  was  beyond  every  degree  surpassing. 
Moreover,  she  was  nurtured  with  excessive  luxury  of  meat  and  drink 
that  her  stature  and  ripeness  might  be  the  greater  for  it,  and  that 
she  might  be  the  sooner  marriageable.  This  is  how  Deirdre's  abode 
was  (situated,  namely)  in  a  fortress  of  the  Branch,  according  to  the 
King's  command,  every  (aperture  for)  light  closed  in  the  front  of  the 
dun,  and  the  windows  of  the  back  (ordered)  to  be  open.  A  beautiful 
orchard  full  of  fruit  (lay)  at  the  back  of  the  fort,  in  which  Deirdre 
might  be  walking  for  a  while  under  the  eye  of  her  tutor  at  the 
beginning  and  the  end  of  the  day ;  under  the  shade  of  the  fresh 
boughs  and  branches,  and  by  the  side  of  a  running,  meandering 
stream  that  was  winding  softly  through  the  middle  of  the  walled 
garden.  A  high,  tremendous  difficult  wall,  not  easy  to  surmount, 
(was)  surrounding  that  spacious  habitation,  and  four  savage  man- 
hounds  (sent)  from  Conor  (were)  on  constant  guard  there,  and  his 
life  were  in  peril  for  the  man  who  would  venture  to  approach  it. 
For  it  was  not  permitted  to  any  male  to  come  next  nor  near  Deirdre, 
nor  even  to  look  at  her,  but  (only)  to  her  tutor,  whose  name  was 
Cailcin,  and  to  King  Conor  himself.  Prosperous  was  Conor's  sway, 
and  valiant  was  the  fame  (i.e.,  famous  was  the  valour)  of  the  Red 
Branch,  defending  the  province  of  Ulster  against  foreigners  and 
against  every  other  province  in  Erin  in  his  time,  and  there  were  no 
three  in  the  household  of  Emania  or  throughout  all  Banba  [Ireland] 
more  brilliant  than  the  sons  of  Uisneach,  nor  heroes  of  higher  fame 
than  they,  Naoise  [Neesha],  Ainle,  and  Ardan. 

"  As  for  Deirdre,  when  she  was  fourteen  years  of  age  she  was 
found  marriageable  and  Conor  designed  to  take  her  to  his  own  royal  < 

couch.  About  this  time  a  sadness  and  a  heavy  flood  of  melancholy 
lay  upon  the  young  queen,  without  gentle  sleep,  without  sufficient 
food,  without  sprightliness — as  had  been  her  wont. 

"  Until  it  chanced  of  a  day,  while  snow  lay  (on  the  ground), 
in  the  winter,  that  Cailcin,  Deirdre's  tutor,  went  to  kill  a 
calf  to  get  ready  food  for  her,  and  after  shedding  the  blood  of 
the  calf  out  upon  the  snow,  a  raven  stoops  upon  it  to  drink  it,  and 
as  Deirdre  perceives  that,  and  she  watching  through  a  window  of 


DEIRDRE  307 

the  fortress,  she  heaved  a  heavy  sigh  so  that  Cailcin  heard  her. 
'  Wherefore  thy  melancholy,  girl  ? '  said  he.  '  Alas  that  I  have  not 
yon  thing  as  I  see  it,'  said  she.  'Thou  shalt  have  that  if  it  be 
possible,'  said  he,  drawing  his  hand  dexterously  so  that  he  gave  an 
unerring  cast  of  his  knife  at  the  raven,  so  that  he  cut  one  foot  off  it. 
And  after  that  he  takes  up  the  bird  and  throws  it  over  near  Deirdrc. 
The  girl  starts  at  once,  and  fell  into  a  faint,  until  Lavarcam  came  up 
to  help  her.  *  Why  art  thou  as  I  see  thee,  dear  girl,'  said  she,  '  for 
thy  countenance  is  pitiable  ever  since  yesterday  ? '  'A  desire  that 
came  to  me,'  said  Deirdre.  '  What  is  that  desire  ? '  said  Lavarcam. 
'  Three  colours  that  I  saw,'  said  Deirdre,  '  namely,  the  blackness  of 
the  raven,  the  redness  of  the  blood,  and  the  whiteness  of  the  snow.' 
'  It  is  easy  to  get  that  for  thee  now,'  said  Lavarcam,  and  arose  (and 
went)  out  without  delay,  and  she  gathered  the  full  of  a  vessel  of 
snow,  and  half  the  full  of  a  cup  of  the  calf's  blood,  and  she  pulls 
three  feathers  out  of  the  wing  of  the  raven.  And  she  laid  them 
down  on  the  table  before  the  girl.  Deirdre  began  as  though  she 
were  eating  the  snow  and  lazily  tasting  the  blood  with  the  top  of  the 
raven's  feather,  and  her  nurse  closely  scrutinising  her,  until  Deirdre 
asked  Lavarcam  to  leave  her  alone  by  herself  for  a  while.  Lavarcam 
departs,  and  again  returns,  and  this  is  how  she  found  Deirdre — 
shaping  a  ball  of  snow  in  the  likeness  of  a  man's  head  and  mottling 
it  with  the  top  of  the  raven's  feather  out  of  the  blood  of  the  calf, 
and  putting  the  small  black  plumage  as  hair  upon  it,  and  she  never 
perceived  her  nurse  examining  her  until  she  had  finished.  '  Whose 
likeness  is  that  ? '  said  Lavarcam.  Deirdre  starts  and  she  said, '  It  is 
a  work  easily  destroyed.'  '  That  work  is  a  great  wonder  to  me,  girl,' 
said  Lavarcam,  '  because  it  was  not  thy  wont  to  draw  pictures  of  a 
man,  (and)  it  was  not  permitted  to  the  women  of  Emania  to  teach 
thee  any  similitude  but  that  of  Conor  only.'  '  I  saw  a  face  in  my 
dream,'  said  Deirdre,  'that  was  of  brighter  countenance  than  the 
King's  face,  or  Cailcin's,  and  it  was  in  it  that  I  saw  the  three  colours 
that  pained  me,  namely,  the  whiteness  of  the  snow  on  his  skin,  the 
blackness  of  the  raven  on  his  hair,  and  the  redness  of  the  blood 
upon  his  countenance,  and  oh  woe  !  my  life  will  not  last,  unless  I 
get  my  desire.'  '  Alas  for  thy  desire,  my  darling,'  said  Lavarcam. 
'  My  desire,  O  gentle  nurse,'  said  Deirdre.  '  Alas  !  'tis  a  pity  thy 
desire,  it  is  difficult  to  get  it,'  said  Lavarcam,  '  for  fast  and  close  is 
the  fortress  of  the  Branch,  and  high  and  difficult  is  the  enclosure 
round  about,  and  [there  is]  the  sharp  watch  of  the  fierce  man- 
hounds  in  it.'  'The  hounds  are  no  danger  to  us,'  said  Deirdre. 
'  Where  did  you  behold  that  face  ? '  said  Lavarcam.  '  In  a  dream 
yesterday/  said  Deirdre,  and  she  weeping,  after  hiding  her  face  in 
her  nurse's  bosom,  and  shedding  tears  plentifully.  '  Rise  up  from 


308      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

me,  dear  pupil/  said  Lavarcam,  'and  restrain  thy  tears  henceforth 
till  thou  eatest  food  and  takest  a  drink,  and  after  Cailcin's  eating  his 
meal  we  shall  talk  together  about  the  dream.'  Her  nurse  raises 
Deirdre' s  head,  '  Take  courage,  daughter,'  said  she,  '  and  be  patient, 
for  I  am  certain  that  thou  shalt  get  thy  desire,  for  according  to 
human  age  and  life,  Conor's  time  beside  thee  is  not  (to  be)  long  or 
lasting.' 

"  After  Lavarcam's  departing  from  her,  she  [Lavarcam]  perceived 
a  green  mantle  hung  in  the  front  of  a  closed-up  window  on  the 
head  of  a  brass  club  and  the  point  of  a  spear  thrust  through  the 
wall  of  the  mansion.  Lavarcam  puts  her  hand  to  it  so  that  it  readily 
came  away  with  her,  and  stones  and  moss  fell  down  after  it,  so  that 
the  light  of  day,  and  the  grassy  lawn,  and  the  Champion's  Plain  in 
front  of  the  mansion,  and  the  heroes  at  their  feats  of  activity  became 
visible.  '  I  understand,  now,  my  pupil,'  said  Lavarcam,  '  that  it  was 
here  you  saw  that  dream.'  But  Deirdre  did  not  answer  her.  Her 
nurse  left  food  and  ale  on  the  table  before  Deirdre,  and  departed 
from  her  without  speaking,  for  the  boring-through  of  the  window 
did  not  please  Lavarcam,  for  fear  of  Conor  or  of  Cailcin  coming  to 
the  knowledge  of  it.  As  for  Deirdre,  she  ate  not  her  food,  but  she 
quenched  her  thirst  out  of  a  goblet  of  ale,  and  she  takes  with  her 
the  flesh  of  the  calf,  after  covering  it  under  a  corner  of  her  mantle, 
and  she  went  to  her  tutor  and  asks  leave  of  him  to  go  out  for  a  while 
(and  walk)  at  the  back  of  the  mansion.  '  The  day  is  cold,  and  there 
is  snow  darkening  in  (the  air)  daughter,'  said  Cailcin,  '  but  you  can 
walk  for  a  while  under  the  shelter  of  the  walls  of  the  mansion,  but 
mind  the  house  of  the  hounds.' 

"  Deirdre  went  out,  and  no  stop  was  made  by  her  until  she  passed 
down  through  the  middle  of  the  snow  to  where  the  den  of  the  man- 
hounds  was,  and  as  soon  as  the  hounds  recognised  her  and  the  smell 
of  the  meat  they  did  not  touch  her,  and  they  made  no  barking  till 
she  divided  her  food  amongst  them,  and  she  returns  into  the  house 
afterwards.  Thereupon  came  Lavarcam,  and  found  Deirdre  lying 
upon  one  side  of  her  couch,  and  she  sighing  heavily  and  shedding 
tears.  Her  nurse  stood  silent  for  a  while  observing  her,  till  her  heart 
was  softened  to  compassion  and  her  anger  departed  from  her.  She 
stretched  out  her  hand,  and  'twas  what  she  said,  '  Rise  up,  modest 
daughter,  that  we  may  be  talking  about  the  dream,  and  tell  me  did 
you  ever  see  that  black  hero  before  yesterday  ? '  '  White  hero,  gentle 
nurse,  hero  of  the  pleasant  crimson  cheeks,'  said  Deirdre.  'Tell 
me  without  falsehood,'  said  Lavarcam, '  did  you  ever  see  that  warrior 
before  yesterday,  or  before  you  bored  through  the  window-work 
with  the  head  of  a  spear  and  with  a  brass  club,  and  till  you  looked 
out  through  it  on  the  warriors  of  the  Branch  when  they  were  at 


DblRDRE  309 

their  feats  of  activity  on  the  Champion  Plain,  and  till  you  saw  all  the 
dreams  you  spoke  of  ? '  Deirdre  hides  her  head  in  her  nurse's 
bosom,  weeping,  till  she  said,  '  Oh,  gentle  mother  and  nurturer  of 
my  heart,  do  not  tell  that  to  my  tutor  ;  and  I  shall  not  conceal  from 
thee  that  I  saw  him  on  the  lawn  of  Emania,  playing  games  with  the 
boys,  and  learning  feats  of  valour,  and  och  !  he  had  the  beautiful 
countenance  at  that  time,  and  very  lovely  was  it  yesterday  (too).' 
'  Daughter,'  said  Lavarcam,  '  you  did  not  see  the  boys  on  the  green 
of  Emania  from  the  time  you  were  seven  years  of  age,  and  that  is 
seven  years  ago.'  '  Seven  bitter  years,'  said  Deirdre,  '  since  I  beheld 
the  delight  of  the  green  and  the  playing  of  the  boys,  and  surely,  too, 
Naoise  surpassed  all  the  youths  of  Emania.'  'Naoise,  the  son  of 
Uisneach  ? '  said  Lavarcam.  '  Naoise  is  his  name,  as  he  told  me,'  said 
Deirdre, '  but  I  did  not  ask  whose  son  he  was.'  '  As  he  told  you  ! '  said 
Lavarcam.  '  As  he  told  me/  said  Deirdre, '  when  he  made  a  throw  of 
a  ball,  by  a  miss-cast,  backwards  transversely  over  the  heads  of  the 
band  of  maidens  that  were  standing  on  the  edge  of  the  green,  and 
I  rose  from  amongst  them  all,  till  I  lifted  the  ball,  and  I  delivered 
it  to  him,  and  he  pressed  my  hand  joyously.'  '  He  pressed  your  hand, 
girl!'  said  Lavarcam.  'He  pressed  it  lovingly,  and  said  that  he 
would  see  me  again,  but  it  was  difficult  for  him,  and  I  did  not  see 
him  since  until  yesterday,  and  oh,  gentle  nurse,  if  you  wish  me  to 
be  alive  take  a  message  to  him  from  me,  and  tell  him  to  come  to 
visit  me  and  talk  with  me  secretly  to-night  without  the  knowledge 
of  Cailcin  or  any  other  person.'  '  Oh,  girl,'  said  Lavarcam,  •  it  is  a 
very  dangerous  attempt  to  gain  the  quenching  of  thy  desire  [being 
in  peril]  from  the  anger  of  the  King,  and  under  the  sharp  watch  of 
Cailcin,  considering  the  fierceness  of  the  savage  man-hounds,  and 
considering  the  difficulty  of  (scaling)  the  enclosure  round  about/ 
'  The  hounds  are  no  danger  to  us,'  said  Deirdre.  '  Then,  too,'  said 
Lavarcam,  '  great  is  Conor's  love  for  the  children  of  Uisneach,  and 
there  is  not  in  the  Red  Branch  a  hero  dearer  to  him  than  Naoise.' 
'  If  he  be  the  son  of  Uisneach,'  said  Deirdre,  '  I  heard  the  report  of 
him  from  the  women  of  Emania,  and  that  great  are  his  own  terri- 
tories in  the  West  of  Alba,  outside  of  Conor's  sway,  and,  gentle 
nurse,  go  to  find  Naoise,  and  you  can  tell  him  how  I  am,  and  how 
much  greater  my  love  for  him  is  than  for  Conor.'  '  Tell  him  that 
yourself  if  you  can,'  said  Lavarcam,  and  she  went  out  thereupon  to 
seek  Naoise  till  he  was  found,  and  till  he  came  with  her  to  Deirdre's 
dwelling  in  the  beginning  of  the  night,  without  Cailcin's  knowledge. 
When  Naoise  beheld  the  splendour  of  the  girl's  countenance  he  is 
filled  with  a  flood  of  love,  and  Deirdre  beseeches  him  to  take  her  and 
escape  to  Alba.  But  Naoise  thought  that  too  hazardous,  for  fear  of 
Conor.  But  in  the  course  (?)  of  the  night  Deirdre  won  him  over,  so 


3io     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

that  he  consented  to  her,  and  they  determined  to  depart  on  the  night 
of  the  morrow. 

"  Deirdre  escaped  in  the  middle  of  the  night  without  the  know- 
ledge of  her  tutor  or  her  nurse,  for  Naoise  came  at  that  time  and  his 
two  brothers  along  with  him,  so  that  he  bored  a  gap  at  the  back  of 
the  hounds"  den,  for  the  dogs  were  dead  already  through  poison  from 
Deirdre. 

"  They  lifted  the  girl  over  the  walls,  through  every  rough  impedi- 
ment, so  that  her  mantle  and  the  extremity  of  her  dress  were  all 
tattered,  and  he  set  her  upon  the  back  of  a  steed,  and  no  stop  was 
made  by  them  till  (they  reached)  Sliabh  Fuaid  and  Finn-charn  of 
the  watch,  till  they  came  to  the  harbour  and  went  aboard  a  ship  and 
were  driven  by  a  south  wind  across  the  ocean-waters  and  over  the 
back-ridges  of  the  deep  sea  to  Loch  n-Eathaigh  in  the  west  of 
Alba,  and  thrice  fifty  valiant  champions  [sailed]  along  with  them, 
namely,  fifty  with  each  of  the  three  brothers,  Naoise,  Ainle,  and 
Ardan." 

The  three  brothers  and  Deirdre  lived  for  a  long  time  happily 
in  Scotland  and  rose  to  great  favour  and  power  with  the  King, 
until  he  discovered  the  existence  of  the  beautiful  Deirdre, 
whom  they  had  carefully  kept  concealed  lest  he  should  desire 
her  for  his  wife.  This  discovery  drives  them  forth  again,  and 
they  live  by  hunting  in  the  highlands  and  islands. 

It  is  only  at  this  point  that  most  of  the  modern  copies,  such 
as  that  published  by  O'Flanagan  in  1808,  begin,  namely, 
with  a  feast  of  King  Conor's,  in  which  he  asks  his  household 
and  all  the  warriors  of  Ulster  who  are  present,  whether  they 
are  aware  of  anything  lacking  to  his  palace  in  Emania.  They 
all  reply  that  to  them  it  seems  perfect.  "Not  so  to  me," 
answers  Conor,  "  I  know  of  a  great  want  which  presseth  upon 
you,  namely,  three  renowned  youths,  the  three  luminaries  of 
the  valour  of  the  Gaels,  the  three  beautiful,  noble  sons  of 
Usnach,  to  be  wanting  to  you  on  account  of  any  woman  in 
the  world."  "  Dared  we  say  that,"  said  they,  "  long  since 
would  we  have  said  it." 

Conor  thereupon  proposes  to  send  ambassadors  to  them  to 
solicit  their  return.  He  takes  Conall  Cearnach  apart  and  asks 
him  if  he  will  go,  and  what  would  he  do  should  the  sons  of 


D  BIRD  RE  311 

Usnach  be  slain  while  under  his  protection.  Conall  answers 
that  he  would  slay  without  mercy  any  Ultonian  who  dared  to 
touch  one  of  them.  So  does  Cuchulain.  Fergus  mac  Roigh 
alone  promises  not  to  injure  the  King  himself  should  he  touch 
them,  but  any  other  Ultonian  who  should  wrong  them  must 
die.  Fergus  and  his  two  sons  sailed  to  Alba,  commissioned  to 
proclaim  peace  to  the  sons  of  Usnach  and  bring  them  home. 
Having  landed,  Fergus  gives  forth  the  cry  of  a  "  mighty  man 
of  chace."  Naoise  and  Deirdre  were  sitting  together  in  their 
hunting  booth  playing  at  chess.  Naoise  heard  the  cry  and  said, 
"I  hear  the  call  of  a  man  of  Erin."  "That  was  not  the  call 
of  a  man  of  Erin,"  said  D&rdre,  "  but  the  call  of  a  man  of 
Alba."  Twice  again  did  Fergus  shout,  and  twice  did  Deirdre 
insist  that  it  was  not  the  cry  of  a  man  of  Erin.  At  last  Naoise 
recognises  the  voice  of  Fergus,  and  sends  his  brother  to  meet 
him.  Then  Deirdre  confesses  that  she  had  recognised  the  call 
of  Fergus  from  the  beginning.  "  Why  didst  thou  conceal  it 
then,  my  queen  ?  "  said  Naoise.  "  A  vision  I  had  last  night," 
said  Deirdre,  "  for  three  birds  came  to  us  from  Emania  having 
three  sups  of  honey  in  their  beaks,  and  they  left  them  with 
us,  but  they  took  with  them  three  sups  of  our  blood."  "  And 
how  readest  thou  that,  my  queen,"  said  Naoise.  "  It  is,"  said 
Deirdre,  "  the  coming  of  Fergus  to  us  with  a  peaceful  message 
from  Conor,  for  honey  is  not  more  sweet  than  the  peaceful 
message  of  the  false  man." 

But  all  is  of  no  avail.  Fergus  and  his  sons  arrive  and  spend  the 
night  with  the  children  of  Usnach,  and  despite  of  all  that  Deirdre 
can  do,  she  sees  them  slowly  win  her  husband  round  to  their 
side,  and  inspire  him  with  a  desire  to  return  once  more  to  Erin. 

Next  morning  they  embark.  Deirdre  weeps  and  utters 
lamentations  ;  she  sings  her  bitter  regret  at  leaving  the  scenes 
where  she  had  been  so  happy. 

"  Delightful  land,"  she  sang,  "  yon  eastern  land,  Alba,  with  its 
wonders.  I  had  never  come  hither  out  of  it  had  I  not  come  with 
Naoise.  . 


312     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

"  The  Vale  of  Laidh,  Oh  in  the  Vale  of  Laidh,  I  used  to  sleep 
under  soft  coverlet ;  fish  and  venison  and  the  fat  of  the  badger  were 
my  repast  in  the  Vale  of  Laidh. 

"  The  Vale  of  Masan,  oh  the  Vale  of  Masan,  high  its  harts-tongue, 
fair  its  stalks,  we  used  to  enjoy  a  rocking  sleep  above  the  grassy 
verge  of  Masan.1 

"  The  vale  of  Eiti,  oh  the  vale  of  Eiti !  In  it  I  raised  my  first 
house,  lovely  was  its  wood  (when  seen)  on  rising,  the  milking-house 
of  the  sun  was  the  vale  of  Eiti. 

"  Glendarua,  oh  Glendarua  !  my  love  to  every  one  who  enjoys  it ; 
sweet  the  voice  of  the  cuckoo  upon  bending  bough  upon  the  cliff 
above  Glendarua. 

"  Dear  is  Droighin  over  the  strong  shore.  Dear  are  its  waters 
over  pure  sand  ;  I  would  never  have  come  from  it  had  I  not  come 
with  my  love." 

She  ceased  to  sing,  the  vessel  approached  the  shore,  and  the 
fugitives  are  landed  once  more  in  Erin.  But  dangers  thicken 
round  them.  Through  a  strategy  of  King  Conor's  Fergus  is 
placed  under  geasa  or  tabu  by  a  man  called  Barach  to  stay 
and  partake  of  a  feast  with  him,  and  thus  detached  from  the 
sons  of  Usnach,  who  are  left  alone  with  his  two  sons  instead. 
Then  Deirdre  again  uses  all  her  influence  with  her  husband 
and  his  brothers  to  sail  to  Rathlin  and  wait  there  until  they 
can  be  rejoined  by  Fergus,  but  she  does  not  prevail.  After 
that  she  has  a  terrifying  dream,  and  tells  it  to  them,  but 
Naoise  answered  lightly  in  verse — 

"  Thy  mouth  pronounceth  not  but  evil, 
O  maiden,  beautiful,  incomparable  ; 
The  venom  of  thy  delicate  ruby  mouth 
Fall  on  the  hateful  furious  foreigners." 

Thereafter,  as  they  advanced  farther  upon  their  way  towards 
King  Conor's  palace  at  Emania,  the  omens  of  evil  grow 


Gleann  Masain,  on  Gleann  Masain, 
Ard  a  chneamh,  geal  a  ghasain, 
Do  ghnidhmis  codladh  corrach 
Os  inbhear  mongach  Masain." 


D  BIRD  RE  313 

thicker  still,  and  all  Deirdre's  terrors  are  re-awakened  by  the 
rising  of  a  blood-red  cloud. 

" '  O  Naoise,  view  the  cloud 
That  I  see  here  on  the  sky, 
I  see  over  Emania  green 
A  chilling  cloud  of  blood-tinged  red. 

I  have  caught  alarm  from  the  cloud 
I  see  here  in  the  sky, 
It  is  like  a  gore-clot  of  blood, 
The  cloud  terrific  very-thin.'  " 

And  she  urged  them  to  turn  aside  to  Cuchulain's  palace  at 
Dundalgan,  and  remain  under  that  hero's  safeguard  till  Fergus 
could  rejoin  them.  But  she  cannot  persuade  the  others  that 
the  treachery  which  she  herself  sees  so  clearly  is  really  intended. 
Her  last  despairing  attempt  is  made  as  they  come  in  sight  of 
the  royal  city  ;  she  tells  them  that  if,  when  they  arrrive,  they 
are  admitted  into  the  mansion  in  which  King  Conor  is 
feasting  with  the  nobles  of  Ulster  round  him,  they  are  safe,  but 
if  they  are  on  any  pretext  quartered  by  the  King  in  the 
House  of  the  Red  Branch,  they  may  be  certain  of  treachery. 
They  are  sent  to  the  House  of  the  Red  Branch,  and  not 
admitted  among  the  King's  revellers,  on  the  pretended  grounds 
that  the  Red  Branch  is  better  prepared  for  strangers,  and  that 
its  larder  and  its  cellar  are  better  provided  with  food  and  drink 
than  the  King's  mansion.  All  now  begin  to  feel  that  the  net 
is  closing  over  them.  Late  in  the  night  King  Conor,  fired 
with  drink  and  jealousy,  called  for  some  one  to  go  for  him  and 
bring  him  word  how  Deirdre  looked,  <c  for  if  her  own  form  live 
upon  her,  there  is  not  in  the  world  a  woman  more  beautiful 
than  she."  Lavarcam,  the  nurse,  undertakes  to  go.  She,  of 
course,  discloses  to  Deirdre  and  Naoise  the  treachery  that  is 
being  plotted  against  them,  and  returning  to  Conor  she  tells 
him  that  Deirdre  has  wholly  lost  her  beauty,  whereat,  "  much 
of  his  jealousy  abated,  and  he  continued  to  indulge  in  feasting 
and  enjoyment  a  long  while,  until  he  thought  of  Ddirdre  a 


3H     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

second  time."  This  time  he  does  not  trust  Lavarcam,  but 
sends  one  of  his  retainers,  first  reminding  him  that  his 
father  and  his  three  brothers  had  been  slain  by  Naoise.  But 
in  the  mean  time  the  entrances  and  windows  of  the  Red 
Branch  had  been  shut  and  barred  and  the  doors  barricaded  by 
the  sons  of  Usnach.  One  small  window,  however,  had  been 
left  open  at  the  back  and  the  spy  climbed  upon  a  ladder  and 
looked  through  it  and  saw  Naoise  and  Deirdre  sitting  together 
and  playing  at  chess.  Deirdre  called  Naoise's  attention  to  the 
face  looking  at  them,  and  Naoise,  who  was  lifting  a  chessman 
off  the  board,  hurled  it  at  the  head  and  broke  the  eye  that 
looked  at  them.  The  man  ran  back  and  told  the  King  that 
it  was  worth  losing  an  eye  to  have  beheld  a  woman  so  lovely. 
Then  Conor,  fired  with  fury  and  jealousy,  led  his  troops  to  the 
assault,  and  all  night  long  there  is  fighting  and  shouting  round 
the  Red  Branch  House,  and  Naoise's  brothers,  helped  by  the 
two  sons  of  Fergus,  pass  the  night  in  repelling  attack,  and  in 
quenching  the  fires  that  break  out  all  round  the  house.  At 
length  one  of  Fergus's  sons  is  slain  and  the  other  is  bought  off 
by  a  bribe  of  land  and  a  promise  of  power  from  King  Conor, 
and  now  the  morning  begins  to  dawn,  but  the  sons  of  Usnach 
are  still  living,  and  D&rdre  is  still  untaken.  At  last  Conor's 
druid,  Cathba,  consents  to  work  a  spell  against  them  it 
Conor  will  plight  his  faithful  word  that  having  once  taken 
Deirdre  he  will  not  touch  or  harm  the  sons  of  Usnach.  Conor 
plights  his  word  and  troth,  and  the  spell  is  set  at  work.  The 
sons  of  Usnach  had  left  the  half-burnt  house  and  were 
escaping  in  the  morning  light  with  Deirdre  between  them 
when  they  met,  as  they  thought,  a  sea  of  thick  viscid  waves, 
and  they  cast  down  their  weapons  and  spread  abroad  their  arms 
and  tried  to  swim,  and  Conor's  soldiers  came  and  took  them 
without  a  blow.  They  were  brought  to  Conor  and  he  caused 
them  to  be  at  once  beheaded.  It  was  then  the  druid  cursed 
E mania,  for  Conor  had  broken  his  plighted  word,  and  that 
curse  was  fulfilled  in  the  misery  that  fell  upon  the  province 


D  BIRD  RE  315 

during  the  wars  with  Meve.  He  cursed  also  the  house  of 
Conor,  and  prophesied  that  none  of  his  descendants  should 
possess  Emania  for  ever,  "and  that,"  adds  the  saga,  "has  been 
verified,  for  neither  Conor  nor  any  of  his  race  possessed  Emania 
from  that  time  to  this."  * 

As  for  Deirdre,  she  was  as  one  distracted  ;  she  fell  upon  the 
ground  and  drank  their  blood,  she  tore  her  hair  and  rent  her 
dishevelled  tresses,  and  the  lament  she  broke  forth  into  has  long 
been  a  favourite  of  Irish  scribes.  She  calls  aloud  upon  the 
dead,  "  the  three  falcons  of  the  mount  of  Culan,  the  three 
lions  of  wood  of  the  cave,  the  three  sons  of  the  breast  of  the 
Ultonians,  the  three  props  of  the  battalion  of  Chuailgne,  the 
three  dragons  of  the  fort  of  Monadh." 

"  The  High  King  of  Ulster,  my  first  husband, 
I  forsook  him  for  the  love  of  Naoise. 
•  ••••( 

That  I  shall  live  after  Naoise 
Let  no  man  on  earth  imagine. 


Their  three  shields  and  their  three  spears 
Have  often  been  my  bed. 


I  never  was  one  day  alone 

Until  the  day  of  the  making  of  the  grave, 

Although  both  I  and  ye 

Were  often  in  solitude. 

My  sight  has  gone  from  me 
At  seeing  the  grave  of  Naoise." 


1  We  have  seen  that  none  of  the  race  of  Ir  claim  descent  from  Conor  ; 
all  their  great  families  O'Mores,  O'Farrells,  etc.,  descend  from  Fergus  mac 
Roigh  [Roy]  or  Conall  Cearnach  (see  p.  69  note)  ;  yet  Conor  had  twenty- 
one  sons,  all  of  whom,  says  Keating,  died  without  issue  except  three — 
"  Benna,  from  whom  descended  the  Benntraidhe  ;  Lamha,  from  whom 
came  the  Lamhraidhe  ;  and  Glasni,  whose  descendants  were  the  Glas- 
naide  ;  but  even  of  these,"  adds  Keating,  "  there  is  not  at  this  day  a  single 
descendant  alive  in  Ireland."  Sec  O'Mahony's  translation,  p.  278. 


3i6     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

She  remembers  now  in  her  own  agony  another  woman  who 
would  lament  with  her  could  she  but  know  that  Naoise  had 
died. 

"  On  a  day  that  the  nobles  of  Alba  [Scotland]  were  feasting, 
And  the  sons  of  Usnach,  deserving  of  love, 
To  the  daughter  of  the  lord  of  Duntrone 
Naoise  gave  a  secret  kiss. 

He  sent  to  her  a  frisking  doe, 

A  deer  of  the  forest  with  a  fawn  at  its  foot, 

And  he  went  aside  to  her  on  a  visit 

While  returning  from  the  host  of  Inverness. 

But  when  I  heard  that 

My  head  filled  full  of  jealousy, 

I  launched  my  little  skiff  upon  the  waves, 

I  did  not  care  whether  I  died  or  lived. 

They  followed  me,  swimming, 

Ainnle  and  Ardan,  who  never  uttered  falsehood, 

And  they  turned  me  in  to  land  again, 

Two  who  would  subdue  a  hundred. 

Naoise  pledged  me  his  word  of  truth, 
And  he  swore  in  presence  of  his  weapons  three  times, 
That  he  would  never  cloud  my  countenance  again 
Till  he  should  go  from  me  to  the  army  of  the  dead. 

Alas  !  if  she  were  to  hear  this  night 
That  Naoise  was  under  cover  in  the  clay, 
She  would  weep  most  certainly, 
And  I,  I  would  weep  with  her  sevenfold."  * 

After  her  lay  of  lamentation  she  falls  into  the  grave  where  the 
three  are  being  buried,  and  dies  above  them.  "Their  flag 
was  raised  over  their  tomb,  and  their  names  were  written  in 
Ogam,  and  their  funeral  games  were  celebrated.  Thus  far 
the  tragedy  of  the  sons  of  Usnach." 

The  oldest  and  briefest  version  of  this  fine  saga,  that  pre- 
served in  the  Book  of  Leinster,  ends  differently,  and  even  more 

*  "  Och  !  da  gcluinfeadh  sise  anocht 
Naoise  bheith  fa  bhrat  i  gcre, 
Do  ghoilfeadh  sise  go^beacht, 
Acht  do  ghoilfinn-se  fa  seacht  16." 


D  BIRD  RE  317 

tragically.  On  the  death  of  Naoise,  who  is  slain  the  moment 
he  appears  on  the  lawn  of  Emania,  Deirdre  is  taken,  her 
hands  are  bound  behind  her  back  and  she  is  given  over  to 
Conor. 

"  Deirdre  was  for  a  year  in  Conor's  couch,  and  during  that  year 
she  neither  smiled  nor  laughed  nor  took  sufficiency  of  food,  drink, 
or  sleep,  nor  did  she  raise  her  head  from  her  knee.  When  they 
used  to  bring  the  musicians  to  her  house  she  would  utter  rhapsody — 

"  '  Lament  ye  the  mighty  warriors 

Assassinated  in  Emania  on  coming,'  etc. 

When  Conor  would  be  endeavouring  to  sooth  her,  it  was  then  she 
would  utter  this  dirge — 

" '  That  which  was  most  beauteous  to  me  beneath  the  sky, 
And  which  was  most  lovely  to  me, 
Thou  hast  taken  from  me — great  the  anguish — 
I  shall  not  get  healed  of  it  to  my  death,'  etc. 

"  '  What  is  it  you  see  that  you  hate  most  ? '  said  Conor. 

" '  Thou  thyself  and  Eoghan  [Owen]  son  of  Duthrecht,' *  said  she. 

"  '  Thou  shalt  be  a  year  in  Owen's  couch  then,'  said  Conor.  Conor 
then  gave  her  over  to  Owen. 

"  They  drove  the  next  day  to  the  assembly  at  Muirtheimhne.  She 
was  behind  Owen  in  a  chariot.  She  looked  towards  the  earth  that 
she  might  not  see  her  two  gallants. 

"  '  Well,  Deirdre/  said  Conor,  '  it  is  the  glance  of  a  ewe  between 
two  rams  you  cast  between  me  and  Owen.' 

"  There  was  a  large  rock  near.  She  hurled  her  head  at  the  stone, 
so  that  she  broke  her  skull  and  was  dead. 

"  This  is  the  exile  of  the  sons  of  Usnach  and  the  cause  of  the  exile 
of  Fergus  and  of  the  death  of  Deirdre." 

It  was  in  consequence  of  Conor's  treachery  in  slaying  the 
sons  of  Usnach  while  under  Fergus's  protection  that  this 
warrior  turned  against  his  king,  burnt  Emania,  and  then  seceded 
into  Connacht  to  Oilioll  [Ulyul]  and  Meve,  king  and  queen 
of  that  province,  where  he  took  service  with  about  fifteen 
hundred  Ultonians  who,  indignant  at  Conor,  seceded  along  with 
him.  "  It  was  he,"  says  Keating,  summing  up  the  substance  of 

1  Who  had  slain  Naoise  at  Conor's  bidding,  in  the  older  version. 


318      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

the  sagas,  "  who  carried  off  the  great  spoils  from  Ulster  whence 
came  so  many  wars  and  enmities  between  the  people  of  Con- 
nacht  and  Ulster,  so  that  the  exiles  who  went  from  Ulster 
into  banishment  with  Fergus  continued  seven,  or  as  some  say, 
ten  years  in  Connacht,  during  which  time  they  kept  constantly 
spoiling,  destroying  and  plundering  the  Ultonians,  on  account 
of  the  murder  of  the  sons  of  Usnach.  And  the  Ultonians  in 
like  manner  wreaked  vengeance  upon  them,  and  upon  the 
people  of  Connacht,  and  made  reprisals  for  the  booty  which 
Fergus  had  carried  off,  and  for  every  other  evil  inflicted  upon 
them  by  the  exiles  and  by  the  Connacht  men,  insomuch  that 
the  losses  and  injuries  sustained  on  both  sides  were  so  numerous 
that  whole  volumes  have  been  written  upon  them,  which 
would  be  too  long  to  mention  or  take  notice  of  at  present." 

It  was  with  the  assistance  of  Fergus  and  the  other  exiles 
that  Meve  undertook  her  famous  expedition  into  Ulster,  of 
which  we  must  now  speak. 


CHAPTER  XXVI 

THE    TAIN    BO    CHUAILGNE 

THE  greatest  of  the  heroic  sagas  and  the  longest  is  that  which 
is  called  the  Tain  Bo  Chuailgne,1  or  "Cattle-Raid  of  Cooley," 
a  district  of  Ulster  contained  in  the  present  county  of  Louth, 
into  which  Oilioll  and  Meadhbh  [Meve],  the  king  and  queen  of 
Connacht,  led  an  enormous  army  composed  of  men  from  the 
four  other  provinces,  to  carry  off  the  celebrated  Dun  Bull  of 
Cooley. 

Although  there  is  a  great  deal  of  verbiage  and  piling-up  of 
rather  barren  names  in  this  piece,  nevertheless  there  are  also 
several  finely  conceived  and  well-executed  incidents.  The 
saga  which,  according  to  Zimmer,  was  probably  first  committed 
to  writing  in  the  seventh  or  eighth  century,  is  partially  pre- 
served in  the  Leabhar  na  h-Uidhre,  a  manuscript  made  about 
the  year  uoo,  and  there  is  a  complete  copy  of  it  in  the  Book 
of  Leinster  made  about  fifty  years  later.  I  have  chiefly  trans- 
lated from  a  more  modern  text  in  my  own  possession,  which 
differs  very  slightly  from  the  ancient  ones. 

The  story  opens  with  a  conversation  between  Meve,  queen 
of  Connacht,  and  Oilioll  her  husband,  which  ends  in  a  dispute 
as  to  which  of  them  is  the  richest.  There  was  no  modern 
Married  Women's  Property  Act  in  force,  but  Irish  ladies 

1  Pronounced  "Taun  Bo  Hooiln'ya." 

319 


320     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

seem  to  have  been  at  all  times  much  more  sympathetically? 
treated  by  the  Celtic  tribes  than  by  the  harder  and  more  stern 
races  of  Teutonic  and  Northern  blood,  and  Irish  damsels  seem 
to  have  been  free  to  enjoy  their  own  property  and  dowries.1 
The  story,  then,  begins  with  this  dispute  as  to  which,  husband 
or  wife,  is  the  richer  in  this  world's  goods,  and  the  argument 
at  last  becomes  so  heated  that  the  pair  decide  to  have  all  their 
possessions  brought  together  to  compare  them  one  with  another 
and  judge  by  actual  observation  which  is  the  most  valuable. 
They  collected  accordingly  jewels,  bracelets,  metal,  gold,  silver, 
flocks,  herds,  ornaments,  etc.,  and  found  that  in  point  of  wealth 
they  were  much  the  same,  but  that  there  was  one  great  bull  called 
Finn-bheannach  or  White-horned,  who  was  really  calved  by  one 
of  Meve's  cows,  but  being  endowed  with  a  certain  amount  of 
intelligence  considered  it  disgraceful  to  be  under  a  woman,  and 
so  had  gone  over  to  Oilioll's  herds.  With  him  Meve  had 
nothing  that  could  compare.  She  made  inquiry,  however,  and 
found  out  from  her  chief  courier  that  there  was  in  the  district 
of  Cuailgne  in  Louth  (Meve  lived  at  Rathcroghan  in  Ros- 
common)  a  most  celebrated  bull  called  the  Dun  Bull  of  Cuailgne 
belonging  to  a  chieftain  of  the  name  of  Dare.  To  him 
accordingly  she  sends  an  embassy  requesting  the  loan  of  the 
bull  for  one  year,  and  promising  fifty  heifers  in  return.  Dare 
was  quite  willing,  and  promised  to  lend  the  animal.  He  was 
in  fact  pleased,  and  treated  the  embassy  generously,  giving  them 
good  lodgings  with  plenty  of  food  and  drink — too  much  drink 
in  fact.  The  fate  of  nations  is  said  to  often  hang  upon  a 
thread.  On  this  occasion  that  of  Ulster  and  Connacht  de- 
pended upon  a  drop  more  or  less,  absorbed  by  one  of  the  ten 
men  who  constituted  Meve's  embassy.  This  man  un- 
fortunately passed  the  just  limit,  and  Dare's  steward  coming  in 
at  the  moment  heard  him  say  that  it  was  small  thanks  to  his 

1  Yet  in  the  Brehon  law  a  woman  is  valued  at  only  the  seventh  part 
of  a  man,  three  cows  instead  of  twenty-one  ;  but  if  she  is  young  and  hand- 
some she  has  her  additional  "  honour  price." 


THE    TAlN  BO   CHUAILGNE  321 

master  to  give  his  bull  "  for  if  he  hadn't  given  it  we'd  have 
taken  it."  That  word  decided  the  fate  of  provinces.  The 
steward,  indignant  at  such  an  outrage,  ran  and  told  his  master, 
and  Dare  swore  that  now  he  would  lend  no  bull,  and  what 
was  more,  but  that  the  ten  men  were  envoys  he  swore  he 
would  hang  them.  With  indignity  they  were  dismissed,  and 
returned  empty-handed  to  Meve's  boundless  indignation.  She 
in  her  turn  swore  she  would  have  the  bull  in  spite  of  Dare. 
She  immediately  sent  out  to  collect  her  armies,  and  invited 
Leinster  and  Munster  to  join  her.  She  was  in  fact  able 
to  muster  most  of  the  three  provinces  to  march  against 
Ulster  to  take  the  bull  from  Dare,  and  in  addition  she  had 
Fergus  mac  Roy  and  about  fifteen  hundred  Ulster  warriors 
who  had  never  returned  to  their  homes  nor  forgiven  Conor  for 
the  murder  of  the  sons  of  Usnach.  She  crossed  the  Shannon 
at  Athlone,  and  marched  on  to  Kells,  within  a  few  miles  of 
Ulster,  and  there  she  pitched  her  standing  camp.  She  was 
accompanied  by  her  husband  and  her  daughter  who  was  the 
fairest  among  women.  Her  mother  had  secretly  promised  her 
hand  to  every  leader  in  her  army  in  order  to  nerve  them  to  do 
their  utmost. 

At  the  very  beginning  Meve  is  forewarned  by  a  mysterious 
female  of  the  slaughter  which  is  to  come.  She  had  driven 
round  in  her  chariot  to  visit  her  druid  and  to  inquire  of  him 
what  would  come  of  her  expedition,  and  is  returning  somewhat 
reassured  in  her  mind  by  the  druid's  promise  which  was — 

"  '  Whosoever  returneth  or  returneth  not,  thou  shalt  return,'  and," 
says  the  saga,  "  as  Meve  returned  again  upon  her  track  she  beheld  a 
thing  which  caused  her  to  wonder,  a  single  woman  (riding)  beside 
her,  upon  the  pole  of  her  chariot.  And  this  is  how  that  maiden  was. 
She  was  weaving  a  border  with  a  sword  of  bright  bronze  *  in 
her  right  hand  with  its  seven  rings  of  red  gold,  and,  about  her,  a 
spotted  speckled  mantle  of  green,  and  a  fastening  brooch  in  the 

1  "  Findruini."  See  Book  of  Leinster,  f.  42,  for  the  old  text  of  this,  but 
I  am  here  using  a  modern  copy,  not  trusting  myself  to  translate  accurately 
from  the  old  text. 


322     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

mantle  over  her  bosom.  A  bright  red  gentle  generous  countenance, 
a  grey  eye  visible  in  her  head,  a  thin  red  mouth,  young  pearly  teeth 
she  had.  You  would  think  that  her  teeth  were  a  shower  of  white 
pearls  flung  into  her  head.  Her  mouth  was  like  fresh  coral  ?  \_par- 
laing] .  The  melodious  address  of  her  voice  and  her  speaking  tones 
were  sweeter  than  the  strings  of  curved  harp  being  played.  Brighter 
than  the  snow  of  one  night  was  the  splendour  of  her  skin  showing 
through  her  garments,  her  feet  long,  fairy-like,  with  (well)  turned 
nails.  Fair  yellow  hair  very  golden  on  her.  Three  tresses  of  her 
hair  round  her  head*  one  tress  behind  falling  after  her  to  the  extre 
mities  of  her  ankles. 

"  Meve  looks  at  her.  '  What  makest  thou  there,  O  maiden  ? '  said 
Meve. 

"'Foreseeing  thy  future  for  thee,  and  thy  grief,  thou  who  art 
gathering  the  four  great  provinces  of  Ireland  with  thee  to  the  land  of 
Ulster,  to  carry  out  the  Tain  Bo  Chuailgne.' 

" '  And  wherefore  doest  thou  me  this  ? "  said  Meve. 

" '  Great  reason  have  I  for  it/  said  the  maiden.  '  A  handmaid  of 
thy  people  (am  I)/  said  she. 

"  '  Who  of  my  people  art  thou  ?'  said  Meve. 

" '  Feithlinn,  fairy-prophetess  of  Rathcroghan,  am  I,'  said  she. 

"  '  It  is  well,  O  Feithlinn,  prophetess,'  said  Meve,  '  and  how  seest 
thou  our  hosts  ? ' 

" '  I  see  crimson  over  them,  I  see  red,'  said  she. 

"  '  Conor  is  in  his  sickness  *  in  Emania,'  said  Meve, '  and  messengers 
have  reached  me  from  him,  and  there  is  nothing  that  I  dread  from 
the  Ultonians,  but  speak  thou  the  truth,  O  Feithlinn,  prophetess/  said 
Meve. 

"  '  I  see  crimson,  I  see  red/  said  she. 

" '  Comhsgraidh  Meann  ...  is  in  Innis  Comhsgraidh  in  his  sick- 
ness, and  my  messengers  have  reached  me,  and  there  is  nothing  that 
I  fear  from  the  Ultonians,  but  speak  me  truth,  O  Feithlinn,  pro- 
phetess, how  seest  thou  our  host  ? ' 

" '  I  see  crimson,  I  see  red.' 

"  '  Celtchar,  son  of  Uitheachar,  is  in  his  sickness/  said  Meve,  '  and 
there  is  nothing  I  dread  from  the  Ultonians,  but  speak  truth,  O 
Feithlinn,  prophetess.' 

" '  I  see  crimson,  I  see  red/  said  she. 

"  ' .  .  .  ? '  said  Meve,  'for  since  the  men  of  Erin  will  be  in  one  place 
there  will  be  disputes  and  fightings  and  irruptions  amongst  them, 


1  This  is  the  mysterious  sickness  which  seizes  upon  all  the  Ultonians  at 
intervals  except  Cuchulain.    See  p.  294,  note  3. 


THE   TAIN  BO   CHUAILGNE  323 

about  reaching  the  beginnings  or  endings  of  fords  or  rivers,  and 
about  the  first  woundings  of  boars  and  stags,  of  venison,  or  matter  of 
venery,  speak  true,  O  Feithlinn,  prophetess,  how  seest  thou  our  host  ? 
said  Meve. 
" '  I  see  crimson  I  see  red,'  said  she." 

After  this  follows  a  long  poem,  wherein  "she  foretold 
Cuchulain  to  the  men  of  Erin." 

The  march  of  M  eve's  army  is  told  with  much  apparent 
exactness.  The  names  of  fifty-nine  places  through  which  it 
passed  are  given  ;  and  many  incidents  are  recorded,  one  of 
which  shows  the  furious,  jealous,  and  vindictive  disposition  of 
the  amazon  queen  herself.  She,  who  seems  to  have  taken  upon 
herself  the  entire  charge  of  the  hosting,  had  made  in  her  chariot 
the  full  round  of  the  army  at  their  encamping  for  the  night,  to 
see  that  everything  was  in  order.  After  that  she  returned  to 
her  own  tent  and  sat  beside  her  husband  Olioill  at  their  meal, 
and  he  asks  her  how  fared  the  troops.  Meve  then  said  something 
laudatory  about  the  Gaileoin,1  or  ancient  Leinstermen,  who  were 
not  of  Gaelic  race,  but  appear  to  have  belonged  to  some  early 
non-Gaelic  tribe,  cognate  with  the  Firbolg. 

"  '  What  excellence  perform  they  beyond  all  others  that  they  be 
thus  praised  ? '  said  Oilioll. 

" '  They  give  cause  for  praise,'  said  Meve,  '  for  while  others  were 
choosing  their  camping-ground,  they  had  made  their  booths  and 
shelters ;  and  while  others  were  making  their  booths  and  shelters, 
they  had  their  feast  of  meat  and  ale  laid  out ;  and  while  others  were 
laying  out  their  feasts  of  bread  and  ale,  these  had  finished  their  food 
and  fare  ;  and  while  others  were  finishing  their  food  and  fare,  these 
were  asleep.  Even  as  their  slaves  and  servants  have  excelled  the 
slaves  and  servants  of  the  men  of  Erin,  so  will  their  good  heroes  and 
youths  excel  the  good  heroes  and  youths  of  the  men  of  Erin  in  this 
hosting.' 

" '  I  am  the  better  pleased  at  that,'  said  Oilioll,  '  because  it  was 
with  me  they  came,  and  they  are  my  helpers.' 2 

1  For  more  about  the  Gaileoin  see  p.  598  of  Rhys's  Hibbert  Lectures, 
and  O  Curry,  "  M.  and  C.,"  vol.  ii.  p.  260. 

2  They  were  countrymen  of  Oilioll's. 


324      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

"  '  They  shall  not  march  with  thee,  then,'  said  Meve,  '  and  it  is  not 
before  me,  nor  to  me,  they  shall  be  boasted  of.' 

" '  Then  let  them  remain  in  camp/  said  Oilioll. 

" '  They  shall  not  do  that  either,'  said  Meve. 

"  '  What  sb>ill  they  do,  then  ? '  said  Findabar,  daughter  of  Oilioll 
and  Meve,  '  if  they  shall  neither  march  nor  yet  remain  in  camp.' 

" '  My  will  is  to  inflict  death  and  fate  and  destruction  on  them/ 
said  Meve." 

It  is  with  the  greatest  difficulty  that  Fergus  is  enabled  to 
calm  the  furious  queen,  and  she  is  only  satisfied  when  the 
three  thousand  Gaileoins  have  been  broken  up  and  scattered 
throughout  the  other  battalions,  so  that  no  five  men  of  them 
remained  together. 

Thereafter  the  army  came  to  plains  so  thickly  wooded,  in 
the  neighbourhood  of  the  present  Kells,  that  they  were  obliged 
to  cut  down  the  wood  with  their  swords  to  make  a  way  for 
their  chariots,  and  the  next  night  they  suffered  intolerably 
from  a  fall  of  snow. 

"  The  snow  that  fell  that  night  reached  to  men's  legs  and  to  the 
wheels  of  chariots,  so  that  the  snow  made  one  plain  of  the  five 
provinces  of  Erin,  and  the  men  of  Ireland  never  suffered  so  much 
before  in  camp,  none  knew  throughout  the  whole  night  whether  it 
was  his  friend  or  his  enemy  who  was  next  him,  until  the  rise  early 
on  the  morrow  of  the  clear-shining  sun,  glancing  on  the  snow  that 
covered  the  country." 

They  are  now  on  the  borders  of  Ulster,  and  Cuchulain  is 
hovering  on  their  flank,  but  no  one  has  yet  seen  him.  He 
lops  a  gnarled  tree,  writes  an  Ogam  on  it,  sticks  upon  it  the 
heads  of  three  warriors  he  had  slain,  and  sets  it  up  on  the  brink 
of  a  ford.  That  night  Oilioll  and  Meve  inquire  from  the 
Ultonians  who  were  in  her  army  more  particulars  about  this 
new  enemy,  and  nearly  a  sixth  part  of  the  whole  Tain  is 
taken  up  by  the  stories  which  are  then  and  there  related 
about  Cuchulain's  earliest  history  and  exploits,  first  by 
Fergus,  and,  when  he  is  done  relating,  by  Cormac  Conlingeas, 


THE   TAIN  BO   CHUAILGNE  325 

and  when  he  has  finished,  by  Fiacha,  another  Ultonian. 
This  long  digression,  which  is  one  of  the  most  interesting 
parts  of  the  whole  saga,  being  over,  we  return  to  the  direct 
story. 

Cuchulain,  who  knows  every  tree  and  every  bush  of  the 
country,  still  hangs  upon  Meve's  flank,  and  without  showing 
himself  during  the  day,  he  slays  a  hundred  men  with  his  sling  * 
every  night. 

Meve,  through  an  envoy,  asks  for  a  meeting  with  him,  and 
is  astonished  to  find  him,  as  she  thinks,  a  mere  boy.  She  offers 
him  great  rewards  in  the  hope  of  buying  him  off,  but  he  will 
have  none  of  her  gold.  The  only  conditions  upon  which  he 
will  cease  his  night-slaying  is  if  Meve  will  promise  to  let 
him  fight  with  some  warrior  every  day  at  the  ford,  and  will 
promise  to  keep  her  army  in  its  camp  while  these  single 
combats  last,  and  this  Meve  consents  to,  since  she  says  it  is 
better  to  lose  one  warrior  every  day  than  one  hundred  every 
night. 

A  great  number  of  single  combats  then  take  place,  each  of 
which  is  described  at  length.  One  curious  incident  is  that 
of  the  war-goddess,  whom  he  had  previously  offended,  the 
Mor-rigu,2  or  "great  queen,"  attacking  him  while  fighting 
with  the  warrior  Loich.  She  came  against  him,  not  in  her 
own  figure,  but  as  a  great  black  eel  in  the  water,  who  wound 
itself  around  his  legs,  and  as  he  stooped  to  disengage  himself 
Loich  wounded  him  severely  in  the  breast.  Again  she  came 
against  him  in  the  form  of  a  great  grey  wolf-bitch,  and  as 
Cuchulain  turned  to  drive  her  off  he  was  again  wounded.  A 
third  time  she  came  against  him  as  a  heifer  with  fifty  other 
heifers  round  her,  but  Cuchulain  struck  her  and  broke  one  of 
her  eyes,  just  as  Diomede  in  the  Iliad  wounds  the  goddess 

1  Crann-tabhail ;  it  is  doubtful  what  kind  of  missile  weapon  this  really 
was.  It  was  certainly  of  the  nature  of  a  sling,  but  was  partly  composed 
of  wood. 

3  See  above,  p.  54  and  291.     Rig-it  is  the  old  form  of  rioghan. 


326     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

Cypris  when  she  appears  against  him.1  Cuchulain,  thus 
embarrassed,  only  rids  himself  of  Loich  by  having  recourse  to 
the  mysterious  feat  of  the  Gae-Bolg,  about  which  we  shall 
hear  more  later  on.  His  opponent,  feeling  himself  mortally 
hurt,  cries  out  — 

"  '  By  thy  love  of  generosity  I  crave  a  boon.' 

"  '  What  boon  is  that  ?'  said  Cuchulain. 

"  '  It  is  not  to  spare  me  I  ask,'  said  Loich,  '  but  let  me  fall  forwards 
to  the  east,  and  not  backward  to  the  west,  that  none  of  the  men  of 
Erin  may  say  that  I  fell  in  panic  or  in  flight  before  thee.' 

"  '  I  grant  it,'  said  Cuchulain,  '  for  surely  it  is  a  warrior's  request.'  " 

After  this  encounter  Cuchulain  grew  terribly  despondent, 
and  urged  his  charioteer  Laeg  again  to  hasten  the  men  of 
Ulster  to  his  assistance,  but  their  pains  were  still  upon  them, 
and  he  is  left  alone  to  bear  the  brunt  of  the  attack  as  best  he 
may.  Meve  also  breaks  her  compact  by  sending  six  men 
against  him,  but  them  he  overcomes,  and  in  revenge  begins 
again  to  slay  at  night. 

Thereafter  follows  the  episode  known  in  Irish  saga  as  the 
Great  Breach  of  Moy  Muirtheimhne.  Cuchulain,  driven  to 
despair  and  enfeebled  by  wounds,  fatigue,  and  watching,  was 
in  the  act  of  ascending  his  chariot  to  advance  alone  against  the 
men  of  the  four  provinces,  moving  to  certain  death,  when  the 


vqXii  %a\/c<£», 

or  dvaXiciQ  tijv  Oeof,  ovdt  Oeduiv 
Tdd)v  ai  r'dvdpwv  iroXefiov  Kara  Koipavzovatv, 
OVT'  dp'  'A9jjvairj,  OVTS.  TTToXiiropOog  'Ej/ww. 
'AXX  ore  dfj  p'  '€/a%aj/e  iroXvv  Ko.9'  ofiiXov 
'EvO'  £7rop££a^£vo£,  fizyaOvfjiov  Tv^eof  vioQ 
"Aicpijv  ovrave  %£ipa,  /i€raX/i€vof  6£si  dovpi 

eiOap  di  dopv  %po6f  avTeroprjaev, 
dia  TrsirXov,  ov  oi  Xd/oireg  Kajuov  avrai, 
Tlpvfivov  vTTtp  QkvapoQ'     p'se  d'  dn(3poTov  aijjia  Ofolo 
'I^WjO,  oiog  Trip  re  pzei  naicdptffai  Qtolcriv." 

Iliad,  v.  330. 

A  better  instance  except  for  the  sex  is  where  he  afterwards  wounds 
Ares.     (See  v.  855.) 


THE   TAIN  BO  CHUAILGNE  327 

eye  of  his  charioteer  is  arrested  by  the  figure  of  a  tall  stranger 
moving  through  the  camp  of  the  enemy,  saluting  none  as  he 
moved,  and  by  none  saluted. 

"  That  man,"  said  Cuchulain,  "  must  be  one  of  my  super- 
natural friends  of  the  shee  *  folk,  and  they  salute  him  not 
because  he  is  not  seen." 

The  stranger  approaches,  and,  addressing  Cuchulain,  desires 
him  to  sleep  for  three  days  and  three  nights,  and  instantly 
Cuchulain  fell  asleep,  for  he  had  been  from  before  the  feast 
of  Samhain  till  after  F&l  Bhrighde2  without  sleep,  "unless 
it  were  that  he  might  sleep  a  little  while  beside  his  spear, 
in  the  middle  of  the  day,  his  head  on  his  hand,  and  his  hand 
on  his  spear,  and  his  spear  on  his  knee,  but  all  the  while 
slaughtering,  slaying,  preying  on,  and  destroying,  the  four 
great  provinces." 

It  was  after  this  long  sleep  of  Cuchulain's  that,  awaking 
fresh  and  strong,  the  Berserk  rage  fell  upon  him.  He  hurled 
himself  against  the  men  of  Erin,  he  drove  round  their  flank, 
he  u  gave  his  chariot  the  heavy  turn,  so  that  the  iron  wheels 
of  the  chariot  sank  into  the  earth,  so  that  the  track  of  the 
iron  wheels  was  (in  itself)  a  sufficient  fortification,  for  like  a 
fortification  the  stones  and  pillars  and  flags  and  sands  of  the 
earth  rose  back  high  on  every  side  round  the  wheels."  All 
that  day,  refreshed  by  his  three  days'  sleep,  he  slaughtered  the 
men  of  Erin. 

Other  single  combats  take  place  after  this,  in  one  of  which 
the  druid  Cailitin  and  his  twenty  sons  would  have  slain  him 
had  he  not  been  rescued  by  his  countryman  Fiacha,  one  of 
those  Ultonians  who  with  Fergus  had  turned  against  their  king 
and  country  when  the  children  of  Usnach  were  slain. 

It  was  only  at  the  last  that  his  own  friend  Ferdiad  was 
despatched  against  him,  through  the  wiles  of  Meve.  Ferdiad 

1  In  Irish,  sidh.    The  stranger  is  really  Cuchulain's  divine  father. 

2  This  is  incredible,  for  the  sickness  of  the  Ultonians  could  not  have 
endured  so  long. 


328     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

was  not  a  Gael,  but  of  the  Firbolg  or  Firdomhnan  race,1  yet 
he  proved  very  nearly  a  match  for  Cuchulain.  Knowing  what 
Meve  wanted  with  him,  he  positively  refused  to  come  to  her 
tent  when  sent  for,  and  in  the  end  he  is  only  persuaded  by  her 
sending  her  druids  and  ollavs  against  him,  who  threatened 
"  to  criticise,  satirise,  and  blemish  him,  so  that  they  would 
raise  three  blisters2  on  his  face  unless  he  came  with  them."  At 
last  he  went  with  them  in  despair,  "  because  he  thought  it 
easier  to  fall  by  valour  and  championship  and  weapons  than  to 
fall  by  [druids']  wisdom  and  by  reproach." 

The  fight  with  Ferdiad  is  perhaps  the  finest  episode  in  the 
Tain.  The  following  is  a  description  of  the  conduct  of  the 
warriors  after  the  first  day's  conflict. 

THE   FIGHT  AT  THE   FORD.3 

"  They  ceased  fighting  and  threw  their  weapons  away  from  them 
into  the  hands  of  their  charioteers.  Each  of  them  approached  the 
other  forthwith  and  each  put  his  hand  round  the  other's  neck  and 
gave  him  three  kisses.  Their  horses  were  in  the  same  paddock  that 
night,  and  their  charioteers  at  the  same  fire ;  and  their  charioteers 
spread  beds  of  green  rushes  for  them  with  wounded  men's  pillows 


1  The  prominence  given  to  and  the  laudatory  comments  on  the  non- 
Gaelic  or  non-Milesian  races,  such  as  the  Gaileoins  and  Firbolg  in  this 
saga  is  very  remarkable.     It  seems  to  me  a  proof  of  antiquity,  because  in 
later  times  these  races  were  not  prominent. 

2  These  are  the  three  blisters  mentioned  in  Cormac's  Glossary  under 
the  word  gaire.     Nede  satirises — wrongfully — his  uncle  Caier,  king  of 
Connacht ;  "  Caier  arose  next  morning  early  and  went  to  the  well.     He 
put  his  hand  over  his  countenance,  he  found  on  his  face  three  blisters 
which  the  satire  had  caused,  namely,  Stain,  Blemish,  and  Defect  [on, 
anim,  eusbaidh'},  to  wit,  red  and  green  and  white." 

3  I  give  here,  for  the  most  part,  the  translation  given  by  Sullivan  in  his 
Addenda  to  O'Curry's  "  Manners  and  Customs,"  but  it  is  an  exceedingly 
faulty  and  defective  one  from  a  linguistic  point  of  view.     However,  even 
though  some  words  may  be  mistranslated  or  their  sense  mistaken,  it  is 
immaterial  here.    Windisch  is  said  to  have  finished  a  complete  translation 
of  the  Tain,  but  it  has  not  as  yet  appeared  anywhere.    Max  Netlau  has 
studied  the  texts  of  the  Ferdiad  episode  in  vols.  x.  and  xi.  of  the  "  Revue 
Celtique." 


THE   TAIN  BO  CHUAILGNE  329 

to  them.  The  professors  of  healing  and  curing  came  to  heal  and 
cure  them,  and  they  applied  herbs  and  plants  of  healing  and  curing 
to  their  stabs,  and  their  cuts,  and  their  gashes,  and  to  all  their 
wounds.  Of  every  herb  and  of  every  healing  and  curing  plant  that 
was  put  to  the  stabs  and  cuts  and  gashes,  and  to  all  the  wounds  of 
Cuchulain,  he  would  send  an  equal  portion  from  him,  westward 
over  the  ford  to  Ferdiad,  so  that  the  men  of  Erin  might  not  be  able 
to  say,  should  Ferdiad  fall  by  him,  that  it  was  by  better  means  of 
cure  that  he  was  enabled  to  kill  him. 

"  Of  each  kind  of  food  and  of  palatable  pleasant  intoxicating 
drink  that  was  sent  by  the  men  of  Erin  to  Ferdiad,  he  would  send  a 
fair  moiety  over  the  ford  northwards  to  Cuchulain,  because  the 
purveyors  of  Ferdiad  were  more  numerous  than  the  purveyors  of 
Cuchulain.  All  the  men  of  Erin  were  purveyors  to  Ferdiad  for 
beating  off  Cuchulain  from  them,  but  the  Bregians  only  were 
purveyors  to  Cuchulain,  and  they  used  to  come  to  converse  with 
him  at  dusk  every  night.  They  rested  there  that  night." 

The  narrator  goes  on  to  describe  the  next  day's  righting, 
which  was  carried  on  from  their  chariots  "  with  their  great 
broad  spears,"  and  which  left  them  both  in  such  evil  plight 
that  the  professors  of  healing  and  curing  "  could  do  nothing 
more  for  them,  because  of  the  dangerous  severity  of  their 
stabs  and  their  cuts  and  their  gashes  and  their  numerous 
wounds,  than  to  apply  witchcraft  and  incantations  and  charms 
to  them  to  staunch  their  blood  and  their  bleeding  and  their 
gory  wounds." 

Their  meeting  on  the  next  day  follows  thus  : — 

"They  arose  early  the  next  morning  and  came  forward  to  the 
ford  of  battle,  and  Cuchulain  perceived  an  ill-visaged  and  a  greatly 
lowering  cloud  on  Ferdiad  that  day. 

" '  Badly  dost  thou  appear  to-day,  O  Ferdiad/  said  Cuchulain, 
'thy  hair  has  become  dark  this  day  and  thine  eye  has  become 
drowsy,  and  thine  own  form  and  features  and  appearance  have 
departed  from  thee.' 

"  '  It  is  not  from  fear  or  terror  of  thee  that  I  am  so  this  day,'  said 
Ferdiad,  '  for  there  is  not  in  Erin  this  day  a  champion  that  I  could 
not  subdue.' 

"  And  Cuchulain  was  complaining  and  bemoaning  and  he  spake 
these  words,  and  Ferdiad  answered  : 


330     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

CUCHULAIN. 

Oh,  Ferdiad,  is  it  thou  ? 
Wretched  man  thou  art  I  trow, 
By  a  guileful  woman  won 
To  hurt  thine  old  companion. 

FERDIAD. 

O  Cuchulain,  fierce  of  fight, 
Man  of  wounds  and  man  of  might, 
Fate  compelleth  each  to  stir 
Moving  towards  his  sepulchre." x 

The  lay  is  then  given,  each  of  the  heroes  reciting  a  verse  in 
turn,  and  it  is  very  possibly  upon  these  lays  that  the  prose 
narrative  is  built  up.  The  third  day's  fighting  is  then 
described  in  which  the  warriors  use  their  "  heavy  hand- 
smiting  swords,"  or  rather  swords  that  gave  "blows  of 
size.  "  2  The  story  then  continues — 

"They  cast  away  their  weapons  from  them  into  the  hands  of 
their  charioteers,  and  though  it  had  been  the  meeting  pleasant  and 
happy,  griefless  and  spirited  of  two  men  that  morning,  it  was  the 
separation,  mournful,  sorrowful,  dispirited,  of  the  two  men  that 
night. 

"  Their  horses  were  not  in  the  same  enclosure  that  night.  Their 
charioteers  were  not  at  the  same  fire.  They  rested  that  night 
there. 

"  Then  Ferdiad  arose  early  next  morning  and  went  forwards  alone 
to  the  ford  of  battle,  for  knew  that  that  day  would  decide  the  battle 
and  the  fight,  and  he  knew  that  one  of  them  would  fall  on  that  day 
there  or  that  they  both  would  fall. 

"  Ferdiad  displayed  many  noble,  wonderful,  varied  feats  on  high 
that  day,  which  he  never  learned  with  any  other  person,  neither 
with  Scathach,  nor  with  Uathach,  nor  with  Aife,  but  which  were 
invented  by  himself  that  day  against  Cuchulain. 

"Cuchulain  came  to  the  ford  and  he  saw  the  noble,  varied, 
wonderful,  numerous  feats  which  Ferdiad  displays  on  high. 

1  This  is  the  metre  of  the  original.    The  last  lines  are  literally,  "  A  man 
is  constrained  to  come  unto  the  sod  where  his  final  grave  shall  be."    The 
metre  of  the  last  line  is  wrong  in  the  Book  of  Leinster, 

2  Tortbullech  =  toirt-bhuilleach. 


THE   TAIN  BO  CHUAILGNE  331 

" '  I  perceive  these,  my  friend,  Laeg '  [said  Cuchulain  to  his 
charioteer],  '  the  noble,  varied,  wonderful,  numerous  feats  which 
Ferdiad  displays  on  high,  and  all  these  feats  will  be  tried  on  me  in 
succession,  and,  therefore,  it  is  that  if  it  be  I  who  shall  begin  to 
yield  this  day  thou  art  to  excite,  reproach,  and  speak  evil  to  me,  so 
that  the  ire  of  my  rage  and  anger  shall  grow  the  more  on  me.  If  it 
be  I  who  prevail,  then  thou  shalt  laud  me,  and  praise  me,  and  speak 
good  words  to  me  that  my  courage  may  be  greater.' T 

" '  It  shall  so  be  done  indeed,  O  Cuchulain,'  said  Laeg. 

"  And  it  was  then  Cuchulain  put  his  battle-suit  of  conflict  and  of 
combat  and  of  fight  on  him,  and  he  displayed  noble,  varied,  wonder- 
ful, numerous  feats  on  high  on  that  day,  that  he  never  learned  from 
anybody  else,  neither  with  Scathach,  nor  with  Uathach,  nor  with 
Aife.  Ferdiad  saw  those  feats  and  he  knew  they  would  be  plied 
against  him  in  succession. 

"  '  What  weapons  shall  we  resort  to,  O  Ferdiad  ? '  said  Cuchulain. 

" '  To  thee  belongs  thy  choice  of  weapons  till  night,'  said  Ferdiad. 

" '  Let  us  try  the  Ford  Feat  then,'  said  Cuchulain. 

" '  Let  us  indeed,'  said  Ferdiad.  Although  Ferdiad  thus  spoke  his 
consent  it  was  a  cause  of  grief  to  him  to  speak  so,  because  he  knew 
that  Cuchulain  was  used  to  destroy  every  hero  and  every  champion 
who  contended  with  him  in  the  Feat  of  the  Ford. 

"  Great  was  the  deed,  now,  that  was  performed  on  that  day  at  the 
ford — the  two  heroes,  the  two  warriors,  the  two  champions  of 
Western  Europe,  the  two  gift  and  present  and  stipend  bestowing 
hands  of  the  north-west  of  the  world ;  the  two  beloved  pillars  of  the 
valour  of  the  Gaels,  and  the  two  keys  of  the  bravery  of  the  Gaels  to 
be  brought  to  fight  from  afar  through  the  instigation  and  inter- 
meddling of  Oilioll  and  Meve. 

"  Each  of  them  began  to  shoot  at  other  with  their  missive  weapons 
from  the  dawn  of  early  morning  till  the  middle  of  midday.  And 
when  midday  came  the  ire  of  the  men  waxed  more  furious,  and 
each  of  them  drew  nearer  to  the  other.  And  then  it  was  that  Cuchu- 
lain on  one  occasion  sprang  from  the  brink  of  the  ford  and  came  on 
the  boss  of  the  shield  of  Ferdiad,  son  of  Daman,  for  the  purpose  of 
striking  his  head  over  the  rim  of  his  shield  from  above.  And  it  was 
then  that  Ferdiad  gave  the  shield  a  blow  of  his  left  elbow  and  cast 

1  A  common  trait  even  in  the  modern  Gaelic  tales,  as  in  the  story  of 
lollan,  son  of  the  king  of  Spain,  whose  sweetheart  urges  him  to  the  battle 
by  chanting  his  pedigree  ;  and  in  Campbell's  story  of  Conall  Gulban, 
where  the  daughter  of  the  King  of  Lochlann  urges  her  bard  to  exhort 
her  champion  in  the  light  lest  he  may  be  defeated,  and  to  give  him 
"  Brosnachadh  file  fir-ghlic,"  i.e.,  the  urging  of  a  truly  wise  poet. 


332      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

Cuchulain  from  him  like  a  bird  on  the  brink  of  the  ford.  Cuchulain 
sprang  from  the  brink  of  the  ford  again  till  he  came  on  the  boss  of 
the  shield  of  Ferdiad,  son  of  Daman,  for  the  purpose  of  striking  his 
head  over  the  rim  of  the  shield  from  above.  Ferdiad  gave  the  shield 
a  stroke  of  his  left  knee  and  cast  Cuchulain  from  him  like  a  little 
child  on  the  brink  of  the  ford. 

"  Laeg  [his  charioteer]  perceived  that  act.  '  Alas,  indeed/  said 
Laeg,  '  the  warrior  who  is  against  thee  casts  thee  away  as  a  lewd 
woman  would  cast  her  child.  He  throws  thee  as  foam  is  thrown  by 
the  river.  He  grinds  thee  as  a  mill  would  grind  fresh  malt.  He 
pierces  thee  as  the  felling  axe  would  pierce  the  oak.  He  binds  thee 
as  the  woodbine  binds  the  tree.  He  darts  on  thee  as  the  hawk  darts 
on  small  birds,  so  that  henceforth  thou  hast  nor  call  nor  right  nor 
claim  to  valour  or  bravery  to  the  end  of  time  and  life,  thou  little 
fairy  phantom/  said  Laeg. 

"  Then  up  sprang  Cuchulain  with  the  rapidity  of  the  wind  and  with 
the  readiness  of  the  swallow,  and  with  the  fierceness  of  the  dragon 
and  the  strength  of  the  lion  into  the  troubled  clouds  of  the  air  the 
third  time,  and  he  alighted  on  the  boss  of  the  shield  of  Ferdiad,  son 
of  Daman  to  endeavour  to  strike  his  head  over  the  rim  of  his  shield 
from  above.  And  then  it  was  the  warrior  gave  the  shield  a  shake, 
and  cast  Cuchulain  from  him  into  the  middle  of  the  ford,  the  same 
as  if  he  had  never  been  cast  off  at  all. 

"  And  it  was  then  that  Cuchulain's  first  distortion  came  on,  and  he 
was  filled  with  swelling  and  great  fulness,  like  breath  in  a  bladder, 
until  he  became  a  terrible,  fearful,  many-coloured,  wonderful  Tuaig, 
and  he  became  as  big  as  a  Fomor,  or  a  man  of  the  sea,  the  great  and 
valiant  champion,  in  perfect  height  over  Ferdiad.1 

"  So  close  was  the  fight  they  made  now  that  their  heads  met  above 
and  their  feet  below  and  their  arms  in  the  middle  over  the  rims  and 
bosses  of  their  shields.  So  close  was  the  fight  they  made  that  they 
cleft  and  loosened  their  shields  from  their  rims  to  their  centres.  So 
close  was  the  fight  which  they  made  that  they  turned  and  bent  and 
shivered  their  spears  from  their  points  to  their  hafts.  Such  was  the 
closeness  of  the  fight  which  they  made  that  the  Bocanachs  and 
Bananachs,  and  wild  people  of  the  glens,  and  demons  of  the  air 
screamed  from  the  rims  of  their  shields  and  from  the  hilts  of  their 
swords  and  from  the  hafts  of  their  spears.  Such  was  the  closeness  of 
the  fight  which  they  made  that  they  cast  the  river  out  of  its  bed  and 
out  of  its  course,  so  that  it  might  have  been  a  reclining  and  reposing 
couch  for  a  king  or  for  a  queen  in  the  middle  of  the  ford,  so  that 

1  Compare  this  with  the  Berserker  rage  of  the  Northmen. 


THE    TAIN  BO   CHUAILGNE  333 

there  was  not  a  drop  of  water  *  in  it  unless  it  dropped  into  it  by  the 
trampling  and  the  hewing  which  the  two  champions  and  the  two 
heroes  made  in  the  middle  of  the  ford.  Such  was  the  intensity  of 
the  fight  which  they  made  that  the  stud  of  the  Gaels  darted  away  in 
fright  and  shyness,  with  fury  and  madness,  breaking  their  chains  and 
their  yokes,  their  ropes  and  their  traces,  and  that  the  women  and 
youths,  and  small  people,  and  camp  followers,  and  non-combatants  of 
the  men  of  Erin  broke  out  of  tue  camp  south-westwards. 

"  They  were  at  the  edge-feat  of  swords  during  the  time.  And  it 
was  then  that  Ferdiad  found  an  unguarded  moment  upon  Cuchulain, 
and  he  gave  him  a  stroke  of  the  straight-edged  sword,  and  buried  it 
in  his  body  until  his  blood  fell  into  his  girdle,  until  the  ford  became 
reddened  with  the  gore  from  the  body  of  the  battle- warrior. 
Cuchulain  would  not  endure  this,  for  Ferdiad  continued  his 
unguarded  stout  strokes,  and  his  quick  strokes  and  his  tremendous 
great  blows  at  him.  And  he  asked  Laeg,  son  of  Riangabhra,  for  the 
Gae  Bulg.  The  manner  of  that  was  this  :  it  used  to  be  set  down  the 
stream  and  cast  from  between  the  toes  [lit.  in  the  cleft  of  the  foot], 
it  made  the  wound  of  one  spear  in  entering  the  body,  but  it  had 
thirty  barbs  to  open,  and  could  not  be  drawn  out  of  a  person's 
body  until  it  was  cut  open.  And  when  Ferdiad  heard  the  Gae  Bulg 
mentioned  he  made  a  stroke  of  the  shield  down  to  protect  his  lower 
body.  Cuchulain  thrust  the  unerring  thorny  spear  off  the  centre  of 
his  palm  over  the  rim  of  the  shield,  and  through  the  breast  of  the 
skin-protecting  armour,  so  that  its  further  half  was  visible  after 
piercing  his  heart  in  his  body.  Ferdiad  gave  a  stroke  of  his  shield 
up  to  protect  the  upper  part  of  his  body,  though  it  was  '  the  relief 
after  the  danger.'  The  servant  set  the  Gae  Bulg  down  the  stream 
and  Cuchulain  caught  it  between  the  toes  of  his  foot,  and  he  threw 
an  unerring  cast  of  it  at  Ferdiad  till  it  passed  through  the  firm  deep 
iron  waistpiece  of  wrought  iron  and  broke  the  great  stone  which 
was  as  large  as  a  millstone  in  three,  and  passed  through  the  protec- 
tions of  his  body  into  him,  so  that  every  crevice  and  every  cavity  of 
him  was  filled  with  its  barbs. 

"'That  is  enough  now,  indeed,'  said  Ferdiad,  'I  fall  of  that. 
Now  indeed  may  I  say  that  I  am  sickly  after  thee,  and  not  by  thy 
hand  should  I  have  fallen,'  and  he  said  [here  follow  some  verses] .... 

"  Cuchulain  ran  towards  him  after  that,  and  clasped  his  two  arms 
about  him  and  lifted  him  with  his  arms  and  his  armour  and  his 
clothes  across  the  ford  northward,  in  order  that  the  slain  should  lie 

1  Cf.  the  common  Gaelic  folk-lore  formula,  "  they  would  make  soft  of 
the  hard  and  hard  of  the  soft,  and  bring  cold  springs  of  fresh  water  out  of 
the  hard  rock  with  their  wrestling." 


334      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

by  the  ford  on  the  north,  and  not  by  the  ford  on  the  west  with  the 
men  of  Erin. 

"  Cuchulain  laid  Ferdiad  down  there,  and  a  trance  and  a  faint  and 
a  weakness  fell  then  on  Cuchulain  over  Ferdiad. 

" '  Good,  O  Cuchulain,'  said  Laeg,  '  rise  up  now  for  the  men  of 
Erin  are  coming  upon  us,  and  it  is  not  single  combat  they  will  give 
thee  since  Ferdiad,  son  of  Daman,  son  of  Dare,  has  fallen  by  thee.' 

"  '  Servant/  said  he, '  what  availeth  me  to  arise  after  him  that  hath 
fallen  by  me.' " 

Cuchulain  is  carried  away  swooning  after  this  fight  and  is 
brought  by  the  two  sons  of  Geadh  to  the  streams  and  rivers  to 
be  cured  of  his  stabs  and  wounds,  by  plunging  him  in  the 
waters  and  facing  him  against  the  currents,  "  for  the  Tuatha 
De  Danann  sent  plants  of  grace  and  herbs  of  healing  (floating) 
down  the  streams  and  rivers  of  Muirtheimhne,  to  comfort  and 
help  Cuchulain,  so  that  the  streams  were  speckled  and  green 
overhead  with  them."  The  Finglas,  the  Bush,  the  Douglas, 
and  eighteen  other  rivers  are  mentioned  as  aiding  to  cure 
him. 

During  the  period  of  Cuchulain's  leeching  many  events  were 
happening  in  Meve's  camp,  amongst  others  the  tragic  death  of 
her  beautiful  daughter,  Finnabra.1  Isolated  bands  of  the  men 
of  Ulster  were  now  beginning  to  at  last  muster  in  front  of 
Meve,  and  amongst  them  came  a  certain  northern  chief,  who 
was,  as  her  daughter  secretly  confessed  to  Meve,  her  own  love 
and  sweetheart  beyond  all  the  men  of  Erin. 

The  prudent  Meve  immediately  desires  her  to  go  to  him,  if 
he  is  her  lover,  and  do  everything  in  her  power  to  make  him 
draw  off  his  warriors.  This  design,  however,  got  abroad,  and 
came  to  the  ears  of  the  twelve  Munster  princes  who  led  the 
forces  of  the  southern  province  in  Meve's  army.  These 
gradually  make  the  discovery  that  the  astute  queen  had 
secretly  promised  her  daughter's  hand  to  each  one  of  the 
twelve,  as  an  inducement  to  him  to  take  part  in  her  expedition. 
Infuriated  at  being  thus  trifled  with  and  at  Meve's  treachery 
1  Or  Findabar,  the  fair-eyebrowed  one. 


THE   TAIN  BO  CHUAILGNE  335 

in  now  sending  her  daughter  to  the  Ultonian,  they  fall  with 
all  their  forces  upon  the  queen's  battalion  and  the  whole  camp 
becomes  a  scene  of  blood  and  confusion.  The  warrior  Fergus 
at  last  succeeds  in  separating  the  combatants,  not  before  seven 
hundred  men  have  fallen.  But  when  Finnabra  saw  the 
slaughter  that  was  raging,  of  which  she  herself  was  cause, 
"a  blood-torrent  burst  from  her  heart  in  her  bosom  through 
(mingled)  shame  and  generosity,"  and  she  was  taken  up  dead. 
In  the  meantime  Cuchulain  is  joined  by  another  great 
Ultonian  warrior,  who  is  also  being  leeched.  He  had  fallen 
upon  the  men  of  Erin  single-handed,  and  received  many 
wounds,  one  from  Meve  herself,  who  fought,  like  Boadicea, 
at  the  head  of  her  troops.  He  describes  the  amazon  who 
wounded  him  to  Cuchulain — 

"A  largely-nurtured,  white-faced,  long-cheeked  woman,  with  a 
yellow  mane  on  the  top  of  her  two  shoulders,  with  a  shirt  of  royal 
silk  over  her  white  skin,  and  a  speckled  spear  red-flaming  in  her 
hand  ;  it  was  she  who  gave  me  this  wound,  and  I  gave  her  another 
small  wound  in  exchange. 

" '  I  know  that  woman,'  said  Cuchulain,  '  that  woman  was  Meve, 
and  it  had  been  glory  and  exultation  to  her  had  you  fallen  by  her 
hand.' " 

Afterwards  Sualtach,  father  of  Cuchulain,  heard  the  groans 
of  his  son  as  he  was  being  cured,  and  said,  "  Is  it  heaven  that 
is  bursting,  or  the  sea  that  is  retiring,  or  the  land  that  is 
loosening,  or  is  it  the  groan  of  my  son  in  his  extremity  that  I 
hear  ? "  said  he.  Cuchulain  despatches  him  to  urge  the 
Ultonians  to  his  assistance.  "  Tell  them  how  you  found  me," 
he  said  ;  "  there  is  not  the  place  of  the  point  of  a  needle  in 
me  from  head  to  foot  without  a  wound,  there  is  not  a  hair 
upon  my  body  without  a  dew  of  crimson  blood  upon  the  top 
of  every  point,  except  my  left  hand  alone  that  was  holding  my 
shield."" 

And  now  the  Ultonians  begin  to  rally  and  face  the  men  of 
Erin.  Troops  are  seen  to  pour  in  from  every  quarter  of 


336      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

Ulster,  gathering  upon  the  plains  of  Meath  for  the  great  battle 
that  was  impending.  Meve  sends  out  her  trusted  messenger 
to  bring  word  of  what  is  going  on  amongst  the  hostile  bands. 
His  first  report  is  that  the  noise  of  the  Ultonians  hewing  down 
the  woods  before  their  chariots  with  the  edge  of  their  swords 
was  cc  like  nothing  but  as  it  were  the  solid  firmament  falling 
upon  the  surface-face  of  the  earth,  or  as  it  were  the  sky-blue 
sea  pouring  over  the  superficies  of  the  plain,  as  it  were  the 
earth  being  rent  asunder,  or  the  forests  falling  [each  tree]  into 
the  grasp  and  fork  of  the  other." 

Mac  Roth,  the  chief  messenger,  is  again  sent  out  to  observe 
the  gathering  of  the  hosts  and  to  bring  word  of  what  bands  are 
coming  in  to  the  hill  where  Conor,  king  of  Ulster,  has  set  up 
his  standard.  On  his  return  at  nightfall  there  follows  a  long, 
minute,  and  tedious  account,  something  like  the  list  of  ships  in 
the  Iliad,  only  broken  by  the  questions  of  Meve  and  Oilioll, 
and  the  answers  of  Fergus.  It  contains,  however,  some  pas- 
sages of  interest.  The  scout  describes  the  arrival  of  twenty- 
nine  different  armaments  around  their  respective  chiefs  at  the 
hill  where  King  Conor  is  encamping.  Incidentally  he  gives 
us  descriptions  of  characters  of  interest  in  the  Saga-cycle.  As 
he  ends  his  description  of  each  band  and  its  leaders,  Oilioll 
turns  to  Fergus,  and  Fergus  from  Mac  Roth's  description 
recognises  and  tells  him  who  the  various  leaders  are.  In  this 
way  we  get  a  glimpse  at  Sencha,  the  wise  man,  the  Nestor  of 
the  Red  Branch,  whose  counsel  was  ever  good.  "  That  man," 
said  Fergus,  "  is  the  speaker  and  peace-maker  of  the  host  of 
Ulster,  and  I  pledge  my  word  that  it  is  no  cowardly  or 
unheroic  counsel  which  that  man  will  give  to  his  lord  this  day, 
but  counsel  of  vigour  and  valour  and  fight."  We  see  the 
arrival  of  Feirceirtne,  the  arch-ollav  of  the  Ultonians,  of 
Cathbadh  the  Druid,  he  who  had  prophesied  of  D6irdre  at  her 
birth,  who  was  supposed,  according  to  the  earliest  accounts,  to 
have  been  the  real  father  of  King  Conor,  he  who  weakened 
the  children  of  Usnach  by  his  spells  ;  and  we  see  also  Aithirne, 


THE   TAIN  BO  CHUAILGNE  337 

the  infamous  and  overbearing  poet  of  the  Ultonians,  about 
whom  much  is  related  in  other  tales.  "  The  lakes  and  rivers," 
said  Fergus,  "  recede  before  him  when  he  satirises  them,  and 
rise  up  before  him  when  he  praises  them."  "  There  are  not 
many  men  in  life  more  handsome  or  more  golden-locked  than 
he,"  said  Mac  Roth,  "he  bears  a  gleaming  ivory  [-hiked] 
sword  in  his  right  hand."  With  this  sword  he  amuses  him- 
self, something  like  the  Norman  trouvere  Taillefer  at  the  battle 
of  Hastings,  by  casting  it  aloft  and  letting  it  fall  almost  on  the 
heads  of  his  companions  but  without  hurting  them.  The 
arch-druid  is  described  as  having  scattered  whitish-grey  hair, 
and  wearing  a  purple-blue  mantle  with  a  large  gleaming 
shield  and  bosses  of  red  brass,  and  a  long  iron  sword  of  foreign 
look.  Conor's  leech,  Finghin,  led  a  band  of  physicians  to  the 
field  ;  "  that  man  could  tell,"  said  Fergus,  "  what  a  person's 
sickness  is  by  looking  at  the  smoke  of  the  house  in  which  he 
is."  Another  hero  whom  we  catch  a  glimpse  of  is  the  mighty 
Conall  Cearnach,  the  greatest  champion  of  the  north,  whose 
name  was  till  lately  a  household  word  around  Dunsevrick,  he 
who  afterwards  so  bloodily  avenged  Cuchulain's  death,  "  the 
sea  over  seas,  the  bursting  rock,  the  furious  troubler  of  hosts," 
as  Fergus  calls  him. 

We  also  see  the  youth  Ere,  son  of  Cairbre  Niafer  the 
High-king,  who  comes  from  Tara  to  assist  his  grandfather 
King  Conor.  It  is  curious,  however,  that  in  this  catalogue 
of  the  Ultonians  quite  as  much  space  is  given  to  the  description 
of  men  whose  names  are  now — so  far,  at  least,  as  I  know — 
unknown  to  us,  as  to  those  who  often  and  prominently  figure 
in  our  yet  remaining  stories. 

At  last  the  great  battle  of  the  Tain  comes  off,  when  the  men 
of  Ulster  meet  the  men  of  Ireland  fairly  and  face  to  face. 
Prodigies  of  valour  are  performed  on  both  sides,  and  Fergus — 
who  after  Cuchulain  is  certainly  the  hero  of  the  Tain — 
seconded  by  Oilioll,  by  Meve,  by  the  Seven  Maines,  and  by 
the  sons  of  Magach,  drives  the  Ultonians  back  on  his  side  of 

I 


338      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

the  battle  three  times.  Conor,  who  is  on  the  other  flank, 
perceives  that  the  men  of  his  far  wing  are  being  broken,  and 
loudly 

"  he  shouts  to  the  Household  of  the  Red  Branch,  '  hold  ye  the  place 
in  the  battle  where  I  am,  till  I  go  find  who  it  is  who  has  thrice 
inclined  the  battle  against  us  on  the  north.' 

" '  We  take  that  upon  ourselves/  said  they,  '  for  heaven  is  over  us, 
and  earth  is  under  us,  and  unless  the  firmament  fall  down  upon  the 
wave-face  of  the  earth,  or  the  ocean  encircle  us,  or  the  ground  give 
way  under  us,  or  the  ridgy  blue-bordered  sea  rise  over  the  expanse * 
of  life,  we  shall  give  not  one  inch  of  ground  before  the  men  of  Erin 
till  thou  come  to  us  again,  or  till  we  be  slain/  " 

Conor  hastens  northward  and  finds  himself  confronted  by 
the  man  he  had  so  bitterly  wronged,  whose  hand  had  lain 
heavy  on  his  province  and  himself,  Fergus,  who  now  comes 
face  to  face  with  him  after  so  many  years.  Tremendous  are 
the  strokes  of  Fergus. 

"He  smote  his  three  enemy  blows  upon  Conor's  shield  ' Eochain' 
so  that  the  shield  screamed  thrice  upon  him,  and  the  three  leading 
waves  of  Erin  answered  it. 

" '  Who,'  cries  Fergus, '  holds  his  shield  against  me  in  this  battle  ? ' 2 
" '  O  Fergus/  cried  Conor,  '  one  who  is  greater  and  younger  and 
handsomer,  and  more  perfect  than  thyself  is  here,  and  whose  father 
and  whose  mother  were  better  than  thine  ;  one  who  slew  the  three 
great  candles  of  the  valour  of  the  Gaels,  the  three  prosperous  sons 
of  Usnach,  in  spite  of  thy  guarantee  and  thy  protection,  the  man 
who  banished  thee  out  of  thy  own  land  and  country,  the  man  who 
made  of  it  a  dwelling-place  for  the  deer  and  the  roe  and  the  foxes, 
the  man  who  never  left  thee  as  much  as  the  breadth  of  thy  foot  of 
territory  in  Ulster,  the  man  who  drove  thee  to  the  entertainment  of 
women,3  and  the  man  who  will  drive  thee  back  this  day  in  the 
presence  of  the  men  of  Erin,  [I]  Conor,  son  of  Fachtna  Fathach, 
High-king  of  Ulster,  and  son  of  the  High-king  of  Ireland." 

Despite  this  boasting  he  would  certainly  have  been  slain  by 
his  great  opponent  had  not  one  of  his  sons  clasped  his  arms  in 

r  "  Tulmuing."     See  p.  7. 

2  I  do  not  think  this  is  rightly  translated,  but  the  passage  is  obscure  to  me. 

3  Alluding  to  Fergus  serving  with  Queen  Meve, 


THE   TAIN  BO  CHUAILGNE  339 

supplication  around  Fergus's  knees  and  conjured  him  not  to 
destroy  Ulster,  and  Fergus,  melted  by  these  entreaties,  con- 
sented to  remain  passive  if  Conor  retired  to  the  other  wing  of 
the  battle,  which  he  did. 

In  the  meantime  Meve  had  sent  away  the  Dun  Bull  with 
fifty  heifers  round  him  and  eight  men,  to  drive  him  to  her 
palace  in  Connacht,  "  so  that  whoever  reached  Cruachan 
alive,  or  did  not  reach  it,  the  Dun  Bull  of  Cuailgne  should 
reach  it  as  she  had  promised." 

Cuchulain,  who  had  joined  the  Ultonians,  and  whose  arms 
had  been  taken  from  him,  lest  in  his  enfeebled  condition  he 
should  injure  himself  by  taking  part  in  the  fray,  unable  to 
bear  any  longer  the  look  of  the  battle,  the  shouting  and  the 
war-cries,  rushes  into  the  fight  with  part  of  his  broken  chariot 
for  a  weapon,  and  performs  mighty  feats.  At  length  he  ceases 
to  slay  at  Meve's  solicitation,  whose  life  he  spares,  and  the 
shattered  remnants  of  her  host  begin  slowly  to  withdraw 
across  the  ford.  "  Oilioll  draws  his  shield  of  protection  behind 
the  host  [/.£.,  covers  the  rear],  Meve  draws  her  shield  of 
protection  in  her  own  place,  Fergus  draws  his  shield  of  pro- 
tection, the  Maines  draw  their  shield  of  protection,  the  sons 
of  Magach  draw  their  shield  of  protection  behind  the  host ; 
and  in  this  manner  they  brought  with  them  the  men  of  Erin 
across  the  great  ford  westward,"  nor  did  they  cease  their  retreat 
till  Meve  and  her  army  found  themselves  at  Cruachan  in 
Connacht,  whence  they  had  set  out. 

The  long  saga  ends  with  a  decided  anti-climax,  the  encounter 
between  the  Dun  Bull,  whom  Meve  had  carried  oflF,  and  her 
own  bull,  the  White-Horned.1  These  bulls,  according  to  one 

1  The  Finnbheannach,  pronounced  "  Fin-van-ach."  Both  the  bulls  were 
endowed  with  intelligence.  One  of  the  virtues  of  the  Dun  Bull  was  that 
neither  Bocanachs  nor  Bananachs  nor  demons  of  the  glens  could  come 
into  one  cantred  to  him.  There  emanated  from  him,  too,  when  returning 
home  every  evening,  a  mysterious  music,  so  that  the  men  of  the  cantred 
where  he  was,  required  no  other  music.  The  war-goddess  herself,  the 
Mor-rigu,  speaks  to  him. 


340     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

of  the  most  curious  of  the  short  auxiliary  sagas  to  the  Tain, 
were  really  rebirths  of  two  men  who  hated  each  other  during 
life,  and  now  fought  it  out  in  the  form  of  bulls.  When  they 
caught  sight  of  each  other  they  pawed  the  earth  so  furiously 
that  they  sent  the  sods  flying  across  their  shoulders,  "they 
rolled  the  eyes  in  their  heads  like  flames  of  fiery  lightning." 
All  day  long  they  charged,  and  thrust,  and  struggled,  and 
bellowed,  while  the  men  of  Ireland  looked  on,  "  but  when  the 
night  came  they  could  do  nothing  but  be  listening  to  the  noises 
and  the  sounds."  The  two  bulls  traversed  much  of  Ireland 
during  that  night.1  Next  morning  the  people  of  Cruachan 
saw  the  Dun  Bull  coming  with  the  remains  of  his  enemy  upon 
his  horns.  The  men  of  Connacht  would  have  intercepted 
him,  but  Fergus,  ever  generous,  swore  with  a  great  oath  that 
all  that  had  been  done  in  the  pursuit  of  the  Tain  was  nothing 
to  what  he  would  do  if  the  Dun  Bull  were  not  allowed  to 
return  to  his  own  country  with  his  kill.  The  Dun  made 
straight  for  his  home  at  Cuailgne  in  Louth.  He  drank  of  the 
Shannon  at  Athlone,  and  as  he  stooped  one  of  his  enemy's  loins 
fell  off  from  his  horn,  hence  Ath-luain,  the  Ford  of  the  Loin. 
After  that  he  rushed,  mad  with  passion,  towards  his  home, 
killing  every  one  who  crossed  his  way.  Arrived  there,  he  set 
his  back  to  a  hill  and  uttered  wild  bellowings  of  triumph, 
until  "  his  heart  in  his  breast  burst,  and  he  poured  his  heart  in 
black  mountains  of  brown  blood  out  across  his  mouth." 
Thus  far  the  Tain  Bo  Chuailgne. 

1  Every  place  in  Ireland,  says  the  saga,  that  is  called  Cluain-na-dtarbh, 
Magh-na-dtarbh,  Bearna-na-dtarbh,  Druim-na-dtarbh,  Loch-na-dtarbh,  i.e., 
the  Bull's  meadow,  plain,  gap,  ridge,  lake,  etc.,  has  its  name  from  them  ! 


CHAPTER    XXVII 

THE    DEATH    OF    CUCHULAIN 

ALTHOUGH  Cuchulain  won  for  himself  in  this  war  an  imperish- 
able fame,  yet  he  was  not  destined  to  enjoy  it  long,  for  he 
perished  before  arriving  at  middle  age.1  The  account  of  his 
death  is  preserved  in  the  Book  of  Leinster,  a  manuscript  of 
the  middle  of  the  twelfth  century,  which  quotes  incidentally 
from  an  Irish  poet 2  of  the  seventh  century,  thus  showing  that 
Cuchulain  was  at  this  early  age  the  hero  of  the  poets.  Un- 
fortunately the  opening  of  the  story  in  the  Book  of  Leinster 
is  lost,  but  many  modern  extensions  of  the  saga  still  exist,  from 
one  of  which  in  my  possession  I  shall  supply  what  is  missing.3 

Cuchulain  had  three   formidable  enemies,  who  were   bent 
upon  his   life,  these  were  Lughaidh  [Lewy]  the  son  of  the 

1  He  died  at  the  age  of  twenty-seven  years,  according  to  the  Annals  of 
Tighearnach,  and  also  according  to  a  note  in  the  Book  of  Ballymote, 
which  Charles  O'Conor  of  Belinagare  identifies  as  an  extract  from  the 
Synchronisms  of  Flann  of  Monasterboice,  who  died  in  1056.  But  an 
account  in  a  MS.  H.  3.  17,  in  Trinity  College,  Dublin,  which  was  copied 
)ut  the  year  1460,  asserts  that  Cuchulain  died  in  his  fifty-ninth  year. 
>ee  O'Curry's  MS.  Mat.,  p.  507.) 

Cennfaelad,  son  of  Ailill. 
3  This  MS.,  which  contains  many  of  the  Cuchulain  sagas,  was  copied 
)ut  a  hundred  years  ago  by  a  scribe  named  Seaghain  O'Mathghamhna 
an  island  in  the  Shannon, 


342     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

Momonian  king  Curigh,1  whom  Cuchulain  had  slain,  Ere,  the 
son  of  Cairbre  Niafer  king  of  all  Ireland,  who  was  slain  in 
the  battle  of  Rosnaree,2  and  the  descendants  of  the  wizard 
Calatin,  who  with  his  twenty  sons  and  his  son-in-law  fell  by 
Cuchulain  in  one  of  the  combats  at  the  Ford,  during  the  raid  of 
the  Tain.  His  wife,  however,  brought  into  the  world  three 
posthumous  children,  daughters.3  These  unhappy  creatures 
Meve  mutilated  by  cutting  off  their  right  legs  and  left  arms, 
so  that  they  might  be  odious  and  horrible,  and  all  the  fitter 
for  the  dread  profession  she  proposed  for  them — evil  wizardry. 
She  reared  them  carefully,  and  so  soon  as  they  were  of  a 
fitting  age  she  sent  them  into  the  world  to  gain  a  knowledge 
of  charms  and  spells,  and  druidism,  and  witchcraft,  and  incanta- 
tions. In  pursuit  of  this  knowledge  they  roamed  throughout 
the  world,  and  at  last  returned  to  the  queen  as  perfect  adepts 
as  might  be. 

Thereupon  she  convened  a  second  muster  of  the  men  of  the 
four  provinces,  and  joined  by  Lewy  the  son  of  Curigh,  and 
Ere  the  son  of  Cairbre  Niafer,  both  of  whose  parents  had 
fallen  by  Cuchulain,  and  having  with  her  the  odious  but 
powerful  children  of  Calatin,  eager  to  avenge  the  death  of 
their  father  and  their  family,  she  again  marched  upon  Ulster 

1  The  older  form  of  this  name  is  Curoi.    A  detailed  account  of  this  saga 
is  given  by   Keating.    See  p.  282  of  O'Mahony's  edition.    The  saga  is 
also  told  under  the  title  of  Aided  Conrut,  in  Egerton  88,  British  Museum. 

2  The  saga  of  the  battle  of  Rosnaree  has  recently  been  published  with  a 
translation  by  Rev.  Ed.  Hogan,  SJ. 

3  Some  say  six  children — three  daughters  and  three  sons.    The  MS. 
H.  i.  8,  in  Trinity  College,  which  dates  from  about  1460,  according  to 
O'Curry,  relates  thus  :  "  And  the  sons  of  Cailitin  were  eight  years  after 
the  Tain  before  they  went  to  pursue  their  learning,  for  they  were  but 
infants  in  cradles  at  the  time  their  father  was  killed.    Nine  years  for  them 
after  that  pursuing  their  learning.     Seven  years  after  finishing  their 
learning  was  spent  in  making  their  weapons,  because  there  could  be 
found  but  one  day  in  the  year  to  make  their  spears.    And  three  years 
after  that  did  the  sons  of  Cailitin  spend  in  assembling  and  marching 
the  men  of  Erin  to  Belach  Mic  Uilc  in  Magh  Muirtheimhne  (Cuchulain 's 
patrimony)." 


THE  DEATH  OF  CUCHULAIN  343 

during  the  sickness  of  their  warriors,  and  began  to  plunder 
and  to  burn  and  to  drive  away  a  mighty  prey.  King  Conor 
immediately  surmised  that  it  was  against  Cuchulain  the 
expedition  was  prepared,  and  without  a  moment's  delay  he 
depatched  Lavarcam  his  female  messenger,  to  desire  him 
instantly  to  leave  his  palace  and  his  patrimony  at  Dundealgan  * 
in  the  plain  of  Muirtheimhne,  and  come  to  himself  at  Emania, 
there  to  be  under  the  King's  immediate  orders.  This  command 
he  gave,  thinking  to  rescue  Cuchulain  from  the  possible  effects 
of  his  own  valour  and  rashness,  for  there  was  scarcely  a  man 
of  distinction  in  any  of  the  four  provinces  of  Erin  some  of 
whose  relatives  had  not  been  slain  by  him. 

Lavarcam  found  the  hero  upon  the  shore,  between  sea  and 
land,  intent  upon  the  slaying  of  sea-fowl  with  his  sling,  but 
though  birds  many  flew  over  him  and  past  him,  not  one  could 
he  bring  down — they  all  escaped  him.  And  this  was  to  him 
the  first  bad  omen.  Very  reluctantly  did  he  obey  the  call  of 
Conor,  and  sorely  loath  was  he  to  leave  his  patrimony.  He 
accompanied  Lavarcam,  however,  to  Emania,  and  abode  there 
in  his  own  bright-lighted  crystal  grianan.  Then  Conor  con- 
sulted with  his  druids  as  to  how  best  to  keep  him  there,  and 
they  sent  the  bright  ladies  of  Emania,  and  his  wife  Emer,  and 
the  poets  and  the  musicians,  and  the  men  of  science,  to  sur- 
round and  distract  and  amuse  him,  with  conversation  and 
music  and  banquets. 

In  the  meantime,  however,  Meve's  army  had  advanced  upon 
and  burned  Dundealgan,  and  the  children  of  Calatin  had 
promised  that  within  three  days  and  three  nights  they  would 
bring  Cuchulain  to  his  doom. 

And  now  ensues  what  is  to  my  mind  one  of  the  most 
powerful  incidents  in  all  this  saga — the  malignant  ghoulish 
efforts  of  the  children  of  Calatin  to  draw  forth  Cuchulain 
from  his  place  of  safety,  and  on  the  other  side  the  anxiety  of 
the  druids  and  ladies,  and  the  frenzied  heart-sick  efforts  of  his 
1  Now  Dundalk  in  the  County  Louth. 


344      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

wife,  and  his  mistress,  to  detain  him.  The  loathsome  wizards 
flew  through  the  air  and  stationed  themselves  upon  the  plain 
outside  Emania — 

"They  smote  the  soil  and  beat  and  tore  it  up  around  them,  so  that 
they  made  of  fuz-balls,  and  of  stalks  of  sanna,  and  of  the  fine  foliage 
of  the  oaks,  as  it  were  ordered  battalions,  and  hosts,  and  multitudes 
of  men,  and  the  confused  shoutings  of  the  battalions  and  of  the  war- 
bands,  and  the  battle  array,  were  heard  on  all  sides,  as  it  were 
striking  and  attacking  the  fortress." 

Geanan  the  druid,  the  son  of  old  Cathbadh,  was  watching 
Cuchulain  this  day.  As  soon  as  the  sounds  of  war  and  shout- 
ing reached  him  Cuchulain  rose  and  "looked  forth,  and  he  saw 
the  battalions  smiting  each  other  unsparingly,"  as  he  thought, 
and  he  burned  at  once  with  fury  and  shame  ;  but  the  druid 
cast  his  two  arms  round  him  in  time  to  prevent  him  from 
bursting  forth  to  relieve  the  apparently  foe-beleaguered  town. 
Over  and  over  again  must  the  druid  assure  him  that  all  he  saw 
was  blind-work  and  magic,  and  unreal  phantoms,  employed  by 
the  clan  Calatin  to  lure  him  forth  to  his  destruction.1  It  was 
impossible,  however,  to  keep  Cuchulain  from  at  least  looking, 
and,  the  next  time  he  looked  forth, 

"  he  thought  he  beheld  the  battalions  drawn  up  upon  the  plains, 
and  the  next  time  he  looked  after  that  he  thought  he  saw  Gradh 
son  of  Lir  upon  the  plain,  and  it  was  a  gets  (tabu)  to  him  to  see  that, 
and  then  he  thought  moreover  that  he  heard  the  harp  of  the  son  of 
Mangur  playing  musically,  ever-sweetly,  and  it  was  a  gets  to  him  to 
listen  to  those  pleasing  fairy  sounds,  and  he  recognised  from  these 
things  that  his  virtue  was  indeed  overcome,  and  that  his  geasa 
(tabus)  were  broken,  and  that  the  end  of  his  career  had  arrived, 
and  that  his  valour  and  prowess  were  destroyed  by  the  children  of 
Calatin." 

After   that   one  of  the  daughters   of  the  wizard  Calatin, 

1  "  Ni  bhfuil  acht  saobh-lucht  siabhartha  arm  sud,  sian-sgarrtha  duaibh- 
siocha  draoidheachta  do  dhealbhadar  clann  cuirpthe  Chailitin  go  claon- 
mhillteach  fad'  chomhair-se,  dod'  chealgadh,  agus  dod'  chomh-bhuaidh- 
readh,  a  churaidh  chalma  chath-bhuadhaigh." 


THE  DEATH  OF  CUCHULAIN  345 

assuming  the  form  of  a  crow,  came  flying  over  him  and 
incited  him  with  taunts  to  go  and  rescue  his  homestead  and 
his  patrimony  from  the  hands  of  his  enemies.  And  although 
Cuchulain  now  understood  that  these  were  enchantments  that 
were  working  against  him,  yet  was  he  none  the  less  anxious 
to  rush  forth  and  oppose  them,  for  he  felt  moved  and  troubled 
in  himself  at  the  shouting  of  the  imaginary  hosts,  and  his 
memory,  and  his  senses,  and  his  right  mind  were  afflicted  by 
the  sounds  of  that  ever-thrilling  harp. 

Then  the  druid  used  all  his  influence,  explaining  to  him 
that  if  he  would  only  remain  for  three  days  more  in  E mania 
the  spells  would  have  no  power,  and  he  would  go  forth  again, 
"  and  the  whole  world  would  be  full  of  his  victories  and  his 
lasting  renown,"  and  thereafter  the  ladies  of  Emania  and  the 
musicians  closed  round  him,  and  they  sang  sweet  melodies, 
and  they  distracted  his  mind,  and  the  day  drew  to  a  close  : — 
the  clan  Calatin  retired  baffled,  and  Cuchulain  was  himself 
once  more. 

During  that  night  the  ladies  and  the  druids  took  council 
together  and  determined  to  carry  him  away  to  a  glen  so  remote 
and  lonely  that  it  was  called  the  Deaf  Valley,  and  to  hide  him 
there,  preparing  for  him  a  splendid  banquet,  with  music,  and 
poets,  and  delights  of  every  kind. 

Next  morning  came  the  accursed  wizards  and  inspected  the 
city,  and  they  marvelled  that  they  saw  not  Cuchulain,  and 
that  he  was  neither  beside  his  wife,  nor  yet  amongst  the  other 
heroes  of  the  Red  Branch.  Then  they  understood  that  he 
had  been  hidden  away  by  Cathbadh  the  druid,  "and  they 
raised  themselves  aloft,  lightly  and  airily,  upon  a  blast  of 
enchanted  wind,  which  they  created  to  lift  them,"  and  went 
soaring  over  the  entire  province  of  Ulster  to  discover  his 
retreat.  This  they  do  by  perceiving  Cuchulain's  grey  steed, 
the  Liath  Macha,  standing  outside  at  the  entrance  to  the 
glen.  Then  the  three  begin  their  wizardry  anew,  and  made, 
as  it  were,  battalions  of  warriors  to  appear  round  the  glen, 


346     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

and  they  raised  anew  the  sounds  of  arms  and  the  shouts  of  war 
and  conflict,  as  they  had  done  at  Emania. 

The  instant  the  ladies  round  Cuchulain  heard  it  they  also 
shouted,  and  the  musicians  struck  up — but  in  vain  ;  Cuchulain 
had  caught  the  sound.  They  succeeded,  however,  in  calming 
his  mind,  and  in  inducing  him  to  pay  no  heed  to  the  false 
witcheries  of  the  clan  Calatin.  These  continued  for  a  long 
time  waiting  and  filling  the  air  with  their  unreal  battle  tumult, 
but  Cuchulain  did  not  appear.  Then  they  understood  that 
the  druids  had  been  more  powerful  than  they.  Mad  with 
impotent  fury  one  of  them  enters  the  glen,  and  pushes  her  way 
right  into  the  very  fortress  where  Cuchulain  was  feasting. 
Once  there  she  changes  herself  into  the  form  of  the  beautiful 
Niamh  [Nee-av],  Cuchulain's  love  and  sweetheart.  First  she 
stood  at  the  door  in  the  likeness  of  an  attendant  damsel,  and 
beckoned  to  the  lady  to  come  to  her  outside.  Niamh,  think- 
ing she  has  something  to  communicate,  follows  her  through 
the  door  and  out  into  the  valley,  and  the  other  ladies  follow 
Niamh.  Instantly  she  raises  an  enchanted  fog  between  them 
and  the  dun,  so  that  they  wander  astray,  and  their  minds  are 
troubled.  But  she,  assuming  the  form  of  the  lady  Niamh  her- 
self, slips  back  into  the  fortress,  comes  to  Cuchulain,  and  cries 
to  him  :  "  Up,  O  Cuchulain,  and  meet  the  men  of  Erin,  or 
thy  fame  shall  be  lost  for  ever,  and  the  province  shall  be 
destroyed."  At  this  speech  Cuchulain  is  astounded,  for  Niamh 
had  bound  him  by  an  oath  that  he  would  not  go  forth  or  take 
arms  until  she  herself  should  give  him  leave,  and  this  leave  he 
never  thought  to  receive  or  her  until  the  fatal  time  was  over. 
"  I  shall  go,"  said  Cuchulain,  "and  that  is  a  pity,  O  Niamh," 
said  he,  "  and  after  that  it  is  difficult  to  trust  to  woman,  for 
I  had  thought  thou  hadst  not  given  me  that  leave  for  the  gold 
of  the  world,  but  since  it  is  thou  who  dost  let  me  go  to  face 
the  men  of  Erin,  I  shall  go."  After  that  he  rose  and  left  the 
dun.  "  I  have  no  reason  for  preserving  my  life  longer,"  said 
Cuchulain,  "  for  the  end  of  my  time  is  come,  and  all  my 


THE  DEATH  OF  CUCHULAIN  347 

geasa  (tabus)  are  lost,  and  Niamh  has  let  me  go  to  face  the 
men  of  Erin  ;  and  since  she  has  let  me,  I  shall  go." 

Afterwards  the  real  Niamh  overtakes  him  at  the  entrance  to 
the  glen,  and  assured  him  with  torrents  of  tears,  and  wild  sobs, 
that  it  was  not  she  who  had  given  him  leave,  but  the  vile 
enchantress  who  had  assumed  her  form,  and  she  conjured  him 
with  prayers  and  piteous  entreaties  to  remain  with  her.  But 
Cuchulain  would  not  believe  her,  and  urged  Laeg  to  catch  his 
steeds  and  yoke  them,  for  he  thought  that  he  beheld — 

"The  great  battle-battalions  ranged  upon  the  green  of  Emania, 
and  the  whole  plain  filled  up  and  crowded  with  broad  bands  of 
hundreds  of  men,  with  champions,  and  steeds,  and  arms,  and 
armour,  and  he  thought  he  heard  the  awful  shoutings,  and  [saw] 
the  burnings  extending,  widely-let-loose  through  the  buildings 
of  Conor's  city,  and  him-seemed  that  there  was  nor  hill  nor 
rising  ground  about  Emania  that  was  not  full  of  spoils,  and  it 
appeared  to  him  that  Emer's  sunny-house  was  overthrown  and  had 
fallen  out  over  the  ramparts  of  Emania,  and  that  the  House  of  the 
Red  Branch  was  in  one  blaze,  and  that  all  Emania  was  one  meeting- 
place  of  fire,  and  of  black,  dark,  spacious,  brown-red  smoke."  x 

Then  Cuchulain's  brooch  fell  from  his  hand  and  pierced  his 
foot,  another  omen  of  ill.  Nor  would  his  noble  grey  war-horse 
allow  himself  to  be  caught.  It  was  only  when  Cuchulain 
addressed  him  with  persuasive  words  of  verse  that  he  consented 
to  let  himself  be  harnessed  to  the  chariot,  and  even  then  "  he 

1  Up  to  this  I  have  followed  the  version  of  my  own  modern  manuscript. 
From  this  out,  however,  the  version  in  the  twelfth-century  Book  of  Leinster 
is  used.  Monsieur  d' Arbois  de  Jubainville,  in  his  introduction  to  the  fragment 
of  the  saga  in  the  Book  of  Leinster,  seems  to  think  that  Emania  was  really 
besieged,  and  women  and  children  slaughtered  round  its  walls  by  the 
men  of  Erin,  whereas  it  would  appear  that  the  lost  part  of  the  saga  refers 
to  some  such  version  as  I  have  given  from  my  manuscript,  and  that  it  was 
only  the  wizardry  and  sorcery  of  the  children  of  Calatin,  who  raised  these 
phantasms.  This  is  the  more  evident  because  Cuchulain,  when  he  issues 
forth,  meets  no  enemy  until  he  has  arrived  at  the  plain  of  Muirtheimhne. 
Jubainville's  words  are,  "  Cependant  les  cris  de  douleur  des  femmes  et 
des  enfants  qu'on  massacrait  jusqu'au  pied  des  remparts  d'Emain  macha 
[Emania]  parvinrent  a  son  oreille  :  on  en  verra  un  peu  plus  bas  les  conse- 
quences, dont  la  derniere  fut  la  mort  du  heros." 


348      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

lets  fall  upon  his  fore  feet,  from  his  eyes,  two  large  tears  of 
blood."  In  vain  did  the  ladies  of  Emania  try  to  bar  his 
passage,  in  vain  did  fifty  queens  uncover  their  bosoms  before 
him  in  supplication.  "  He  is  the  first,"  says  the  saga,  "  of 
whom  it  is  recounted  that  women  uncovered  before  him  their 
bosoms."  J 

Thereafter  another  evil  omen  overtook  him,  for  as  he  pursued 
the  high  road  leading  to  the  south, 

"  and  had  passed  the  plain  of  Mogna,  he  perceived  something,  three 
hags  of  the  half -blind  race,2  who  were  on  the  track  before  him  cook- 
ing a  poisoned  dog's  flesh  upon  spits  of  holly.  Now  it  was  a  gets 
(tabu)  to  Cuchulain  to  pass  a  cooking-fire  without  visiting  it  and 
accepting  food.  It  was  another  geis  to  eat  of  his  own  name  "  [i.e.,  a 
hound,  he  is  Cu-Chulain  or  Culan's  hound],  "so  he  pauses  not,  but 
passes  the  three  hags.  Then  one  of  them  cries  to  him — 

" '  Come,  visit  us,  Cuchulain.' 

" '  I  shall  not  visit  you,'  said  Cuchulain. 

" '  There  is  something  to  eat  here/  replied  the  hag ;  '  we  have  a 
dog  to  offer  thee.  If  our  cooking-place  were  great,'  said  she,  '  thou 
wouldst  come,  but  because  it  is  small  thou  comest  not ;  a  great  man 
who  despises  the  small,  deserves  no  honour.' 

"Cuchulain  then  moved  over  to  the  hag,  and  she  with  her  left 
hand  offered  him  half  the  dog.  Cuchulain  ate,  and  it  was  with  his 
left  hand  he  took  the  piece,  and  he  placed  part  of  it  under  his  left 
thigh,  and  his  left  hand  and  his  left  thigh  were  cursed,  and  the  curse 
reached  all  his  left  side,  which  from  his  head  to  his  feet  lost  a  great 
part  of  its  power." 

At  last  Cuchulain  meets  the  enemy  on  his  ancestral  patri- 
mony of  Moy  Muirtheimhne,  drawn  up  in  battle  array,  with 
shield  to  shield  as  though  it  were  one  solid  plank  that  was 
around  them.  Cuchulain  displays  his  feats  from  his  chariot, 
especially  "  his  three  thunder-feats — the  thunder  of  an  hundred, 
the  thunder  of  three  hundred,  the  thunder  of  thrice  nine 


1  It  was  geis,  or  tabu,  to  him  to  behold  the  exposed  breast  of  a  woman. 
See  above,  p.  301. 
z  These  are  in  my  version  the  three  daughters  of  Calatin. 


THE  DEATH  OF  CUCHULAIN  349 

"He  played  equally  with  spear,  shield,  and  sword,  he  performed 
all  the  feats  of  a  warrior.  As  many  as  there  are  of  grains  of  sand  in 
the  sea,  of  stars  in  the  heaven,  of  dewdrops  in  May,  of  snowflakes 
in  winter,  of  hailstones  in  a  storm,  of  leaves  in  a  forest,  of  ears  of  corn 
in  the  plains  of  Bregia,  of  sods  beneath  the  feet  of  the  steeds  of  Erin 
on  a  summer's  day,  so  many  halves  of  heads,  and  halves  of  shields,  and 
halves  of  hands  and  halves  of  feet,  so  many  red  bones  were  scattered 
by  him  throughout  the  plain  of  Muirtheimhne,  it  became  grey  with 
the  brains  of  his  enemies,  so  fierce  and  furious  was  Cuchulain's 
onslaught." 

The  plan  which  Ere,  son  of  the  late  High-king  Cairbre 
Niafer  had  adopted  was  to  place  two  men  pretending  to  fight 
with  one  another  upon  each  flank  of  the  army  and  a  druid 
standing  near  who  should  first  make  Cuchulain  separate  the 
combatants,  and  should  then  demand  from  him  his  spear,  since 
there  ran  a  prophecy  to  the  effect  that  Cuchulain's  spear  should 
kill  a  king,  but  if  they  could  get  the  spear  from  him  they  at 
least  would  be  safe  from  the  prophecy  ;  it  would  not  be  one  of 
them  who  should  be  slain  by  it. 

Cuchulain  separates  the  fighters  as  the  druid  asks  him,  by 
killing  each  of  them  with  a  blow. 

" '  You  have  separated  them/  said  the  druid,  *  they  shall  do  each 
other  no  more  harm.' 

"  *  They  would  not  be  so  silenced,'  said  Cuchulain,  '  hadst  thou  not 
prayed  me  to  interfere  between  them.' 

"  '  Give  me  thy  spear,  O  Cuchulain,'  said  the  druid. 

" '  I  swear  by  the  oath  which  my  nation  swears,'  said  Cuchulain, 
'you  have  no  greater  need  of  the  spear  than  I.  All  the  warriors 
of  Erin  are  come  together  against  me,  and  I  must  defend  myself.' 

" '  If  thou  refuse  me/  said  the  druid,  '  I  shall  solemnly  utter  against 
thee  a  magic  curse.' 

" '  Up  to  this  time/  replied  Cuchulain,  '  no  curse  has  ever  been 
levelled  against  me  for  any  act  of  refusal  on  my  part.'  " 

And  with  that  he  reversed  his  spear  and  threw  it  at  the  druid 
butt  foremost,  killing  him  and  nine  more.  Lewy,  the  son  of 
Curigh,  immediately  picked  it  up. 

" '  Whom,'  said  he  to  the  children  of  Calatin,  '  is  this  to 
overthrow  ? ' 


350     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

" '  It  is  a  king  whom  that  spear  shall  slay,'  said  they. 

Lewy  hurled  it  at  Cuchulain's  chariot,  and  it  pierced  Laeg, 
his  charioteer. 

Cuchulain  bade  his  charioteer  farewell. 

" c  To-day,'  said  Cuchulain,  *  I  shall  be  both  warrior  and 
charioteer.' " 

The  same  incident  happens  again.  Cuchulain  kills  the  second 
druid  in  the  same  way,  and  his  spear  is  picked  up  by  Ere. 

" '  Children  of  Calatin,'  said  Ere,  '  what  exploit  shall  this  spear 
perform  ? ' 

" '  It  shall  overthrow  a  king,'  said  they. 

" '  You  said  this  spear  would  overthrow  a  king  when  Lewy  hurled 
it  some  time  ago/  said  Ere. 

"  '  Nor  were  we  deceived,'  said  they, '  that  spear  has  brought  down 
the  king  of  the  charioteers  of  Ireland,  Laeg,  the  son  of  Riangabhra, 
Cuchulain's  charioteer.' " 

Ere  hurls  the  spear  and  it  passes  through  the  side  of  Cuchu- 
lain's noble  steed,  the  Liath  Macha.  Cuchulain  took  a  fond 
farewell  of  the  animal  who  galloped  with  half  the  yoke  around 
its  neck  to  the  lake  from  whence  he  had  first  taken  it,  on  the 
mountain  of  Fuad  in  far-off  Armagh. 

The  third  time  a  druid  demands  his  spear,  and  is  killed  by 
Cuchulain,  who  throws  it  to  him  handle  foremost.  The  spear 
is  picked  up  this  time  by  Lewy  son  of  Curigh. 

" '  What  feat  shall  this  spear  perform,  ye  children  of  Calatin  ? ' 
said  Lewy. 

"  '  It  shall  overthrow  a  king,'  said  they. 

" '  Ye  said  as  much  when  Ere  hurled  it  this  morning,'  answered 
Lewy. 

" '  Yes,'  answered  the  children  of  Calatin,  '  and  our  word  was  true. 
The  spear  which  Ere  hurled  has  wounded  mortally  the  king  of  the 
steeds  of  Ireland,  the  Liath  Macha.' 

"  '  I  swear  then/  said  Lewy, '  by  the  oath  which  my  nation  swears, 
that  Erc's  blow  smote  not  the  king  which  this  spear  is  to  slay.'  " 

Then  Lewy  hurls  the  spear,  and  this  time  pierces  Cuchulain 
through  the  body,  and  Cuchulain's  other  steed  burst  the  yoke 


THE  DEATH  OF  CUCHULAIN  351 

and  rushed  off  and  never  ceased  till  he,  too,  had  plunged  into  the 
lake  from  which  Cuchulain  had  taken  him  in  far-off  Munster.1 
Cuchulain  remained  behind,  dying  in  his  chariot.  With  difficulty 
and  holding  in  his  entrails  with  one  hand,  he  advanced  to  a 
little  lake  hard  by,  and  drank  from  it,  and  washed  off  his  blood. 
Then  he  propped  himself  against  a  high  stone  a  few  yards  from 
the  lake,  and  tied  himself  to  it  with  his  girdle.  "  He  did  not 
wish  to  die  either  sitting  or  lying,  it  was  standing,"  says  the 
saga,  "  that  he  wished  to  meet  death." 

But  his  grey  steed,  the  Liath  Macha,2  returned  once  more  to 
defend  his  lord,  and  made  three  terrible  charges,  scattering  with 
tooth  and  hoof  all  who  would  approach  the  stone  where  Cuchu- 
lain was  dying.  At  last  a  bird  was  seen  to  alight  upon  his 
shoulder.  "  Yon  pillar  used  not  to  be  a  settling  place  for  birds," 
said  Ere.  They  knew  then  that  he  was  dead.  Lewy,  the  son 
of  Curigh,  seized  him  by  the  back  hair  and  severed  his  head 
from  his  body. 

But  Cuchulain  was  too  important  an  epic  hero  to  thus  finish 
with  him.  Another  very  celebrated,  but  probably  later  Epopee 
tells  of  how  his  friend  Conall  Cearnach  pursued  the  retreating 
army  and  exacted  vengeance  for  his  death.  A  brief  digest  of 
Conall's  revenge  is  contained  in  the  Book  of  Leinster,  but  modern 
copies  of  much  longer  and  more  literary  versions  exist,  and  there 
was  no  more  celebrated  poem  amongst  the  later  Gael  than  that 

1  The  belief  in  water-horses  is  quite  common  even  still  amongst  the  old 
people  in  all  parts  of  Connacht,  and,  I  think,  over  the  most  of  Ireland. 

2  With  the  Liath  Macha  so  renowned  throughout  the  whole  Cuchulain 
saga  compare  Areion,  the  celebrated  steed  of  Adrastus,  who  saved  his 
master  at  the  rout  of  the  Argeian  chiefs  round  Thebes.    The  Liath  Macha 
returns  to  the  water  from  whence  it  came,  and  Areion,  too,  was  believed 
to  have  been  the  offspring  of  Poseidon.     He  is  alluded  to  by  Nestor  in  the 
Iliad  xxiii.  346 : 

OVK  ea9'  og  KB  ff'eXyat  fJaraX^voQ  ovdt  irapeXQy, 
ovd'  et  Kev  /uer67rt<£<r0ei>  'Apeiova  <hov  eXavvoi, 
'ASprjarov  ra^vv  'ITTTTOV  og  «K  Qtofyiv  y'tvog  ijev. 

He  appears,  however,  to  have  been  black  not  grey.    Hesiod  alludes  to  him 

as  p.kyav  ITTTTOV  Aptiova  Kvavo^aiTtiv. 


352     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

called  the  Lay  of  the  Heads  in  which  Conall  Cearnach  returns  to 
Emer,  Cuchulain's  wife,  to  Emania,  with  a  large  bundle  of  heads 
strung  upon  a  gad,  or  withy-wand,  thrust  through  their  mouths 
from  cheek  to  cheek,  and  there  explains  in  a  lay  to  Emer  who 
they  were. 

In  the  ancient  version  in  the  Book  of  Leinster  it  is  only 
Lewy  who  is  slain  by  Conall.  In  my  more  modern  recension 
he  slays  Ere  and  the  children  of  Calatin  as  well,  and  recovers 
the  head  of  Cuchulain,  which  he  found  being  used  as  a  football 
by  two  men  near  Tara.  "  If  this  city,"  said  he  of  Tara, 
"were  Erc's  own  lordship  and  patrimony  I  would  burn  it 
down,  but  since  it  is  the  very  navel  and  meeting-point  of  the 
men  of  Ireland,  I  shall  affront  it  no  more." 

Emer's  joy  and  her  grief  on  recovering  her  husband's  head  are 
touchingly  described. 

"She  washed  clean  the  head  and  she  joined  it  on  to  its  body,  and 
she  pressed  it  to  her  heart  and  her  bosom,  and  fell  to  lamenting  and 
heavily  sorrowing  over  it,  and  began  to  suck  in  its  blood  and  to  drink 
it,1  and  she  placed  around  the  head  a  lovely  satin  cloth.  '  Ochone  ! ' 
said  she,  '  good  was  the  beauty  of  this  head,  although  it  is  low  this 
day,  and  it  is  many  of  the  kings  and  princes  of  the  world  would  be 
keening  it  if  they  thought  it  was  like  this  ;  and  the  men  who  demand 
gold  and  treasure,  and  ask  petitions  of  the  men  of  Erin  and  Alba 
[i.e.,  the  poets  and  druids]  thou  wast  their  one  love  and  their  one 
choice  of  the  men  of  the  earth,  and  woe  for  me  that  I  remain  behind 
this  day  ;  for  there  was  not  of  the  women  of  Erin,  nor  in  the  whole 
great  world,  a  woman  mated  with  a  husband,  or  unmated,  not  a  single 
one,  who,  until  this  day,  was  not  envious  of  me  ;  for  many  were  the 
goods  and  jewels  and  rents  and  tributes  from  the  countries  of  the  world 
that  thou  broughtest  to  me,  with  the  valour  and  strength  of  thy 
hand,'  and  she  took  his  hand  in  hers  and  fell  to  making  lamentations 
over  it,  and  to  telling  of  its  fame  and  its  exploits,  and  't  was  what 
she  said,  'Alas  !'  said  she, '  it  is  many  of  the  kings  and  of  the  chieftains 
and  of  the  strong  men  of  the  world  that  fell  by  this  hand,  and  it  is 

1  "  Do  rinne  an  ceann  do  niamhghlanadh  agus  do  chuir  ar  a  chollain  fein  e, 
agus  do  dhruid  re  na  h-ucht  agus  n-a  h-urbhruinne  e,  agus  do  ghaibh  ag 
tuirse  agus  ag  trom-mheala  os  a  chionn,  agus  do  ghaibh  ag  sughadh  a 
choda  fola  agus  ag  a  h-6l,"  etc.  This  was  to  express  affection.  Deirdre 
does  the  same  when  her  husband  is  slain,  she  laps  his  blood. 


THE  DEATH  OF  CUCHULAIN  353 

many  of  the  goods  and  treasures  of  this  world  that  were  scattered 
by  it  upon  poets  and  men  of  knowledge,'  and  she  spake  the  lay, 

" '  Ochone  O  head,  Ochone  O  head,' "  etc. 

Afterwards  Conall  Cearnach  arrives  with  his  pile  of  heads 
and  planted  them  carefully  "all  round  about  the  wide  grass- 
green  lawn  "  upon  pointed  sticks,  and  relates  to  Emer  who  they 
were  and  how  they  fell.1 

"Thereafter,"  says  the  saga,  "Emer  desired  Conall  to  make 
a  wide  very  deep  tomb  for  Cuchulain,"  and  she  laid  herself 
down  in  it  along  with  her  gentle  mate,  and  she  set  her  mouth 
to  his  mouth,  and  she  spake — 

" '  Love  of  my  soul,'  she  said,  '  O  friend,  O  gentle  sweetheart,  and 
O  thou  one  choice  of  the  men  of  the  earth,  many  is  the  woman 
envied  me  thee  until  now,  and  I  shall  not  live  after  thee  ; '  and  her 
soul  departed  out  of  her,  and  she  herself  and  Cuchulain  were  laid  in 
the  one  grave  by  Conall,  and  he  raised  their  stone  over  their  tomb, 
and  he  wrote  their  names  in  Ogam,  and  their  funeral  games  were 
performed  by  him  and  by  the  Ultonians. 

"THUS  FAR  THE  RED  ROUT  OF  CONALL  CEARNACH." 


1  This  is  the  celebrated  Laoi  na  gceann,  or  Lay  of  the  Heads,  which 
begins  by  Emer  asking — 

"  A  Chonaill  cia  h-iad  na  cinn  ? 

Is  dearbh  linn  gar  dheargais  h-airm, 
Na  cinn  o  tharla  ar  an  ngad 
Slointear  leat  na  fir  d'ar  baineadh." 

It  was  popular  in  the  Highlands  also.  There  is  a  copy  in  the  book  of  the 
Dean  of  Lismore,  published  by  Cameron  in  his  "  Reliquiae  Celticae,"  vol.  i. 
p.  66.  Also  in  the  Edinburgh  MSS.  36  and  38.  See  ibid.  pp.  113  and  115. 
The  piece  consists  of  n6  lines.  The  oldest  form  of  Emer's  lament  over 
Cuchulain,  "  Nuallguba  Emire,"  is  in  the  Book  of  Leinster,  p.  123,  a.  20. 
It  is  a  kind  of  unrhymed  chant.  The  lament  I  have  given  is  from  my 
own  modern  manuscript. 


CHAPTER   XXVIII 

OTHER  SAGAS  OF  THE  RED  BRANCH 

ANOTHER  saga  belonging  to  this  cycle  affords  so  curious  a 
picture  of  pagan  customs  that  it  is  worth  while  to  give  here 
some  extracts  from  it.  This  is  the  story  of  Mac  Datho's  Pig 
and  Hound,  which  is  contained  in  the  Book  of  Leinster,  a 
MS.  copied  about  the  year  1150.  It  was  first  published  with- 
out a  translation  by  Windisch  in  his  "  Irische  Texte,"  from  the 
Book  of  Leinster  copy  collated  with  two  others.  It  has  since 
been  translated  by  Kuno  Meyer  from  a  fifteenth-century 
vellum.1  The  story  runs  as  follows. 

Mac  Datho  was  a  famous  landholder  in  Leinster,  and  he 
possessed  a  hound  so  extraordinarily  strong  and  swift  that  it 
could  run  round  Leinster  in  a  day.  All  Ireland  was  full  of 
the  fame  of  that  hound,  and  every  one  desired  to  have  it.  It 
struck  Meve  and  Oilioll,  king  and  queen  of  Connacht,  to 
send  an  embassy  to  Mac  Datho  to  ask  him  for  his  hound,  at 
the  same  time  that  the  notion  came  to  Conor,  king  of  Ulster, 
that  he  also  would  like  to  possess  it.  Two  embassies  reach 
Mac  Datho's  house  at  the  same  time,  the  one  from  Connacht 
and  the  other  from  Ulster,  and  both  ask  for  the  hound  for  their 
respective  masters.  Mac  Datho's  house  was  one  of  those  open 

1  "  Hibernica  Minora,"  p.  57,  from  Rawlinson  B.  512,  in  the  Bodleian 
Library.    I  have  followed  his  excellent  translation  nearly  verbatim. 
354 


OTHER  SAGAS  OF  THE  RED  BRANCH  355 

hostelries T  of  which  there  were  five  at  that  time  in  Ireland. 

"  Seven  doors,"  says  the  saga,  "  there  were  in  each  hostelry,  seven 
roads  through  it,  and  seven  fireplaces  therein.  Seven  caldrons  in 
the  seven  fireplaces.  An  ox  and  a  salted  pig  would  go  into  each  of 
these  caldrons,  and  the  man  that  came  along  the  road  would  (i.e., 
any  traveller  who  passed  the  way  was  entitled  to)  thrust  the  flesh 
fork  into  the  caldron,  and  whatever  he  brought  up  with  the  first 
thrust,  that  he  would  eat,  and  if  nothing  were  brought  up  with  the 
first  thrust  there  was  no  other  for  him." 

The  messengers  are  brought  before  Mac  Datho  to  his  bed, 
and  questioned  as  to  the  cause  of  their  coming. 

"'To  ask  for  the  hound  are  we  come,'  said  the  messengers  of 
Connacht,  '  from  Oilioll  and  from  Meve,  and  in  exchange  for  it  there 
shall  be  given  three  score  hundred  milch  cows  at  once,  and  a  chariot 
with  the  two  horses  that  are  best  in  Connacht  under  it,  and  as  much 
again  at 'the  end  of  the  year  besides  all  that.' 

" '  We,  too,  have  come  to  ask  for  it,'  said  the  messengers  of  Ulster, 
'  and  Conor  is  no  worse  a  friend  than  Oilioll  and  Meve,  and  the  same 
amount  shall  be  given  from  the  north  (i.e.,  from  the  Ultonians)  and 
be  added  to,  and  there  will  be  good  friendship  from  it  continually.' 

"  Mac  Datho  fell  into  a  great  silence,  and  was  three  days  and 
nights  without  sleeping,  nor  could  he  eat  food  for  the  greatness 
of  his  trouble,  but  was  moving  about  from  one  side  to  another.  It 
was  then  his  wife  addressed  him  and  said,  '  Long  is  the  fast  in 
which  thou  art,'  said  she;  'there  is  plenty  of  food  by  thee,  though 
thou  dost  not  eat  it.' 

"  And  then  she  said — 

"  Sleeplessness  was  brought 
To  Mac  Datho  into  his  house. 
There  was  something  on  which  he  deliberated 
Though  he  speaks  to  none.3 

He  turns  away  from  me  to  the  wall, 
The  Hero  of  the  Fene  of  fierce  valour, 
His  prudent  wife  observes 
That  her  mate  is  without  sleep." 

A  dialogue  in  verse  follows.     The  wife  advises  her  husband 

1  In  Old  Irish,  Bruiden  ;  in  modern,  Bruidhean  (Bree-an). 

2  "  TucacHurbaid  chotulta  /  do  Mac  Datho  co  a  thech. 

Ros  boi  ni  no  chomairled  /  cen  co  labradar  fri  nech." 


356     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

to  promise  the  hound  to  both  sets  of  messengers.  In  his 
perplexity  he  weakly  decides  to  do  this.  After  the  messengers 
had  stayed  with  him  for  three  nights  and  days,  feasting,  he 
called  to  him  first  the  envoys  of  Connacht  and  said  to  them — 

" '  I  was  in  great  doubt  and  perplexity,  and  this  is  what  is  grown 
out  of  it,  that  I  have  given  the  hound  to  Oilioll  and  Meve,  and  let 
them  come  for  it  splendidly  and  proudly,  with  as  many  warriors 
and  nobles  as  they  can  get,  and  they  shall  have  drink  and  food  and 
many  gifts  besides,  and  shall  take  the  hound  and  be  welcome/ 

"  He  also  went  with  the  messengers  of  Ulster  and  said  to  them, 
'  After  much  doubting  I  have  given  the  hound  to  Conor,  and  let  him 
and  the  flower  of  the  province  come  for  it  proudly,  and  they  shall 
have  many  other  gifts  and  you  shall  be  welcome/  But  for  one  and 
the  same  day  he  made  his  tryst  with  them  all." 

Accordingly  on  the  appointed  day  the  warriors  and  men  of 
each  province  arrive  at  his  hostelry  in  great  state  and  pomp. 

"He  himself  went  to  meet  them  and  bade  them  welcome.  "Tis 
welcome  ye  are,  O  warriors,'  said  he,  '  come  within  into  the  close/ 

"  Then  they  went  over,  and  into  the  hostelry ;  one  half  of  the 
house  for  the  men  of  Connacht  and  the  other  half  for  the  men  of 
Ulster.  That  house  was  not  a  small  one.  Seven  doors  in  it  and 
fifty  beds  between  (every)  two  doors.  Those  were  not  faces  of 
friends  at  a  feast,  the  people  who  were  in  that  house,  for  many  of 
them  had  injured  other.  For  three  hundred  years  before  the 
birth  of  Christ  there  had  been  war  between  them.1 

" '  Let  the  pig  be  killed  for  them/  said  Mac  Datho." 

This  celebrated  pig  had  been  fed  for  seven  years  on  the 
milk  of  three  score  milch  cows,  and  it  was  so  huge  that  it  took 
sixty  men  to  draw  it  when  slain.  Its  tail  alone  was  a  load  for 
nine  men. 

"  <  The  pig  is  good,'  "  said  Conor,  king  of  Ulster. 

" c  It  is  good/  "  said  Oilioll,  king  of  Connacht. 

Then  there  arose  a  difficulty  about  the  dividing  of  the  pig. 
As  in  the  case  of  the  "  heroes  bit "  the  best  warrior  was  to 

1  But  especially  since  Fergus  mac  Roigh  or  Roy  had  deserted  Ulster 
and  gone  over  to  Connacht  on  the  death  of  Deirdre. 


OTHER   SAGAS   OF   THE  RED  BRANCH  357 

divide  it.  King  Oilioll  asked  King  Conor  what  they  should 
do  about  it,  when  suddenly  the  mischievous,  ill-minded  Bricriu 
spoke  from  a  chamber  overhead  and  asked,  "  How  should  it 
be  divided  except  by  a  contest  of  arms  seeing  that  all  the 
valorous  warriors  of  Connacht  were  there." 

" '  Let  it  be  so/  said  Oilioll. 

" '  We  like  it  well,'  said  Conor,  '  for  we  have  lads  in  the  house 
who  have  many  a  time  gone  round  the  border.' 

" '  There  will  be  need  of  thy  lads  to-night,  O  Conor,'  said  a  famous 
old  warrior  from  Cruachna  Conalath  in  the  west.  '  The  roads  of 
Luachra  Dedad  have  often  had  their  backs  turned  to  them  (as  they 
fled).  Many,  too,  the  fat  beeves  they  left  with  me.' 

""Twas  a  fat  beef  thou  leftest  with  me,'  said  Munremar 
mac  Gerrcind,  '  even  thine  own  brother,  Cruithne  mac  Ruaidlinde 
from  Cruachna  Conalath  of  Connacht.' 

"'He  was  no  better,'  said  Lewy  mac  Conroi,  'than  Irloth,  son  of 
Fergus,  son  of  Leite,  who  was  left  dead  by  Echbel,  son  of  Dedad, 
at  Tara  Luachra.' 

"  '  What  sort  of  man  do  ye  think,'  said  Celtchair  mac  Uthechair, 
'was  Conganchnes,  son  of  (that  same)  Dedad,  who  was  slain  by 
myself,  and  me  to  strike  the  head  off  him  ? ' 

"  Each  of  them  brought  up  his  exploits  in  the  face  of  the  other, 
till  at  last  it  came  to  one  man  who  beat  every  one,  even  Get 
mac  Magach  of  Connacht.1 

"  He  raised  his  prowess  over  the  host,  and  took  his  knife  in  his 
hand,  and  sat  down  by  the  pig.  '  Now  let  there  be  found/  said  he, 
'  among  the  men  of  Ireland  one  man  to  abide  contest  with  me,  or 
let  me  divide  the  pig.' 

"  There  was  not  at  that  time  found  a  warrior  of  Ulster  to  stand  up 
to  him,  and  great  silence  fell  upon  them. 

" '  Stop  that  for  me,  O  Laeghaire  [Leary]  /  said  Conor,  [King  of 
Ulster,  i.e.,  '  Delay,  if  you  can,  Cet's  dividing  the  pig '] . 


He  is  well  known  in  the  Ultonian  saga.    Keating  describes  him  in 
history  as  a  "  mighty  warrior  of  the  Connachtmen,  and  a  fierce  wolf 
evil  to  the  men  of  Ulster."     It  was  he  who  gave  King  Conor  the  wound 
which,  after  nine  years,  he  died.     He  was  eventually  slain  by  Conall 
irnach  as  he  was  returning  in  a  heavy  fall  of  snow  from  a  plundering 
ccursion  in  Ulster,  carrying  three  heads  with  him.     See  O'Mahony's 
iting,  p.  274,  and  Conall  Cearnach  was  taken  up  for  dead  and  brought 
iway  by  the  Connacht  men  after  the  fight,  but  recovered.    This  evidently 
formed  the  plot  of  another  saga  now  I  think  lost. 


358      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

"  Said  Leary,  '  It  shall  not  be — Get  to  divide  the  pig  before  the 
face  of  us  all ! ' 

"'Wait  a  little,  Leary,'  said  Get,  'that  thou  mayest  speak  with 
me.  For  it  is  a  custom  with  you  men  of  Ulster  that  every  youth 
among  you  who  takes  arms  makes  us  his  first  goal.1  Thou,  too, 
didst  come  to  the  border,  and  thus  leftest  charioteer  and  chariot 
and  horses  with  me,  and  thou  didst  then  escape  with  a  lance 
through  thee.  Thou  shalt  not  get  at  the  pig  in  that  manner  ! ' 

"  Leary  sat  down  upon  his  couch. 

" '  It  shall  not  be,'  said  a  tall,  fair  warrior  of  Ulster,  coming  out  of 
his  chamber  above,  '  that  Get  divide  the  pig.' 

"' Who  is  this?'  said  Get. 

" ' A  better  warrior  than  thou,'  say  all,  'even  Angus,  son  of  Hand- 
wail  of  Ulster.' 

" '  Why  is  his  father  called  Hand-wail  ? '  said  Get. 

" '  We  know  not  indeed,'  say  all. 

" '  But  I  know,'  said  Get ;  '  once  I  went  eastward  (i.e.,  crossed  the 
border  into  Ulster),  an  alarm-cry  is  raised  around  me,  and  Hand- 
wail  came  up  with  me,  like  every  one  else.  He  makes  a  cast  of  a 
large  lance  at  me.  I  make  a  cast  at  him  with  the  same  lance,  which 
struck  off  his  hand,  so  that  it  was  (i.e.,  fell)  on  the  field  before  him. 
What  brings  the  son  of  that  man  to  stand  up  to  me  ? '  said  Get. 

"  Then  Angus  goes  to  his  couch. 

" '  Still  keep  up  the  contest,'  said  Get,   '  or  let  me  divide  the 

Pig-' 

" '  It  is  not  right  that  thou  divide  it,  O  Get,'  said  another  tall,  fair 

warrior  of  Ulster. 

"'Who  is  this?'  said  Get. 

"  '  Owen  Mor,  son  of  Durthacht,'  say  all,  '  king  of  Fernmag.'  * 

"  '  I  have  seen  him  before/  said  Get. 

" '  Where  hast  thou  seen  me,'  said  Owen. 

" '  In  front  of  thine  own  house  when  I  took  a  drove  of  cattle  from 
thee ;  the  alarm  cry  was  raised  in  the  land  around  me,  and  thou 
didst  meet  me  and  didst  cast  a  spear  at  me,  so  that  it  stood  out  of 
my  shield.  I  cast  the  same  spear  at  thee,  which  passed  through  thy 


1  This  is  what  Cuchulain  also  does  the  day  he  assumes  arms  for  the 
first  time.  The  story  of  his  doings  on  that  day  and  his  foray  into 
Connacht  as  recited  by  Fergus  to  Oilioll  and  Meve  forms  one  of  the  most 
interesting  episodes  of  the  Tain  Bo  Chuailgne.  Every  young  Ultonian 
on  assuming  arms  made  a  raid  into  Connacht. 

a  It  was  he  who,  in  the  oldest  version  of  the  Deirdre  saga,  slew  Naoise, 
and  it  was  to  him  Conor  made  Deirdre  over  at  the  end  of  a  year.  See 
above  p.  317. 


OTHER  SAGAS  OF  THE  RED  BRANCH  359 

head  and  struck  thine  eye  out  of  thy  head,  and  the  men  of  Ireland 
see  thee  with  one  eye  ever  since.' 

"He  sat  down  in  his  seat  after  that. 

" '  Still  keep  up  the  contest,  men  of  Ulster/  said  Cet,  '  or  let  me 
divide  the  pig.' 

" '  Thou  shalt  not  divide  it/  said  Munremar,  son  of  Gerrcend. 

" '  Is  that  Munremar  ? '  said  Cet. 

" '  It  is  he/  say  the  men  of  Ireland. 

"'It  was  I  who  last  cleaned  my  hands  in  thee,  O  Munremar/ 
said  Cet;  'it  is  not  three  days  yet  since  out  of  thine  own  land  I 
carried  off  three  warriors'  heads  from  thee,  together  with  the  head 
of  thy  first  son.' 

"  Munremar  sat  down  on  his  seat. 

"'Still  the  contest/  said  Cet,  'or  I  shall  divide  the  pig.' 

"  '  Verily  thou  shalt  have  it/  said  a  tall,  grey,  very  terrible  warrior 
of  the  men  of  Ulster. 

"'Who  is  this?'  said  Cet. 

'"That  is  Celtchair,  son  of  Uithechar/  say  all. 

" '  Wait  a  little,  Celtchair/  said  Cet,  '  unless  thou  comest  to  strike 
me.  I  came,  O  Celtchair,  to  the  front  of  thy  house.  The  alarm  was 
raised  around  me.  Every  one  went  after  me.  Thou  comest  like 
every  one  else,  and  going  into  a  gap  before  me  didst  throw  a  spear 
at  me.  I  threw  another  spear  at  thee,  which  went  through  thy 
loins,  nor  has  either  son  or  daughter  been  born  to  thee  since." 

"  After  that  Celtchair  sat  down  on  his  seat. 

" '  Still  the  contest/  said  Cet,  '  or  I  shall  divide  the  pig.' 

" '  Thou  shalt  have  it/  said  Mend,  son  of  Sword-heel. 

"'Who  is  this?'  said  Cet. 

" '  Mend/  say  all. 

" '  What !  deem  you/  said  Cet,  '  that  the  sons  of  churls  with 
nicknames  should  come  to  contend  with  me  ?  for  it  was  I  was  the 
priest,  x  who  christened  thy  father  by  that  name,  since  it  is  I  that 
cut  off  his  heel,  so  that  he  carried  but  one  heel  away  with  him. 
What  should  bring  the  son  of  that  man  to  contend  with  me  ? ' 

"  Mend  sat  down  in  his  seat. 

" '  Still  the  contest/  said  Cet,  '  or  I  shall  divide  the  pig.' 

" '  Thou  shalt  have  it/  said  Cumscraidh,  the  stammerer  of  Macha, 
son  of  Conor. 

"'Who  is  this?' 

" '  That  is  Cumscraidh/  say  all. 

"  He  is  the  makings  of  a  king,  so  far  as  his  figure  goes.  ... 

This  phrase,  introduced  by  a  Christian  reciter  or  copyist,  need  not  in 
least  take  away  from  the  genuine  pagan  character  of  the  whole. 


360      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

" t  Well/  said  Get,  '  thou  madest  thy  first  raid  on  us.  We  met  on 
the  border.  Thou  didst  leave  a  third  of  thy  people  with  me,  and 
earnest  away  with  a  spear  through  thy  throat,  so  that  no  word  comes 
rightly  over  thy  lips,  since  the  sinews  of  thy  throat  were  wounded, 
so  that  Cumscraidh,  the  stammerer  of  Macha,  is  thy  name  ever  since.' 

"  In  that  way  he  laid  disgrace  and  a  blow  on  the  whole  province. 

"While  he  made  ready  with  the  pig  and  had  his  knife  in  his 
hand,  they  see  Conall  Cedrnach  [the  Victorious],  coming  towards 
them  into  the  house.  He  sprang  on  to  the  floor  of  the  house. 
The  men  of  Ulster  gave  him  great  welcome.  'Twas  then  [King] 
Conor  threw  his  helmet  from  his  head  and  shook  himself  [for 
joy]  in  his  own  place.  'We  are  glad/  said  Conall,  'that  our 
portion  is  ready  for  us,  and  who  divides  for  you  ? '  said  Conall. 

"One  man  of  the  men  of  Ireland  has  obtained  by  contest  the 
dividing  of  it,  to  wit,  Get  mac  Magach. 

" '  Is  that  true,  Get  ?'  said  Conall,  '  art  thou  dividing  the  pig  ?' 

There  follows  here  an  obscure  dialogue  in  verse  between 
the  warriors. 

" '  Get  up  from  the  pig,  Get/  said  Conall. 

" '  What  brings  thee  to  it  ? '  said  Get. 

"'Truly  [for  you]  to  seek  contest  from  me,'  said  Conall,  'and  I 
shall  give  you  contest ;  I  swear  what  my  people  swear  since  I 
[first]  took  spear  and  weapons,  I  have  never  been  a  day  without 
having  slain  a  Connachtman,  nor  a  night  without  plundering,  nor 
have  I  ever  slept  without  the  head  of  a  Connachtman  under  my 
knee/ 

" '  It  is  true,'  said  Get,  '  thou  art  even  a  better  warrior  than  I,  but  if 
Anluan  mac  Magach  [my  brother]  were  in  the  house/  said  Get,  '  he 
would  match  thee  contest  for  contest,  and  it  is  a  pity  that  he  is  not 
in  the  house  this  night.' 

" '  Aye,  is  he,  though/  said  Conall,  taking  the  head  of  Anluan  from 
his  belt  and  throwing  it  at  Cet's  chest,  so  that  a  gush  of  blood  broke 
over  his  lips.  After  that  Conall  sat  down  by  the  pig  and  Cet  went 
from  it. 

" '  Now  let  them  come  to  the  contest/  said  Conall. 

"  Truly  there  was  not  then  found  among  the  men  of  Connacht  a 
warrior  to  stand  up  to  him  in  contest,  for  they  were  loath  to  be  slain 
on  the  spot.  The  men  of  Ulster  made  a  cover  around  him  with 
their  shields,  for  there  was  an  evil  custom  in  the  house,  the  people 
of  one  side  throwing  stones  at  the  other  side.  Then  Conall  pro- 
ceeded to  divide  the  pig,  and  he  took  the  end  of  the  tail  in  his 
mouth  until  he  had  finished  dividing  the  pig." 


OTHER  SAGAS  OF  THE  RED  BRANCH  361 

The  men  of  Connacht,  as  might  be  expected,  were  not 
pleased  with  their  share.  The  rest  of  the  piece  recounts  the 
battle  that  ensued  both  in  the  hostelry,  whence  "  seven  streams 
of  blood  burst  through  its  seven  doors,"  and  outside  in  the 
close  or  liss  after  the  hosts  had  burst  through  the  doors,  the 
death  of  the  hound,  the  flight  of  Oilioll  and  Meve  into 
Connacht,  and  the  curious  adventures  of  their  charioteer. 

The  Conception  of  Cuchulain,1  the  Conception  of  Conor,2 
the  Wooing  of  Emer,  3  the  Death  of  Conlaoch,  4  the 
Siege  of  Howth,S  the  Intoxication  of  the  Ultonians,6 
Bricriu's  Banquet,7  Emer's  Jealousy  and  Cuchulain's  Pining,8 
the  Battle  of  Rosnaree,9  Bricriu's  Feast  and  the  Exile 
of  the  Sons  of  Dael  Dermuit,10  Macha's  Curse  on  the 

1  Windisch's    "Irische   Texte,"  Erste    Serie,    134,  and    D'Arbois   de 
Jubainville's  "  L'epopee  Celtique  en  Irlande,"  p.  22. 
3  D'Arbois  de  Jubainville's  "  Epopee  Celtique,"  p.  3. 

3  Translated  by  Kuno  Meyer  in  "  Revue   Celtique,"  vol.  xi.,  and  "  The 
Archaeological  Review,"  vol.  i.,  and  Jubainvilles'  "  Epopee  Celtique,"  p.  39. 

4  A  poem  published  by  Miss  Brooke  in  her  "  Reliques  of  Irish  Poetry," 
p.  393  of  the  2nd  Edition  of  1816.    There  are  fragmentary  versions  of  it 
in  the   Edinburgh  MSS.  65  and  62,  published  in  Cameron's  "  Reliquiae 
Celticae,"  vol.  i.  pp.  112  and  161,  and  in  the  Sage  Pope  Collection  from  the 
recitation  of  a  peasant  about  a  hundred  years  ago,  p.  393.     The  oldest 
form  of  the  story  is  in  the  Yellow  Book  of  Lecan,  and  it  has  been  studied 
in  Jubainville's  "  Epopee  Celtique,"  p.  52. 

s  Edited  and  translated  by  Stokes  in  the  "  Revue  Celtique,"  vol.  viii. 
p.  49. 

6  Translated  by  Hennessy  for  Royal  Irish  Academy,  Todd  Lecture,  Ser.  I. 

7  The  text  published  by  Windisch,  "  Irische  Texte,"   I.    p.    235,   and 
translated  by  Jubainville  in  "  Epopee  Celtique,"  p.  81. 

8  The  text  published  by  Windisch,  "  Irische  Texte,'  I.  p.  197,  and  by 
O'Curry  in  "  Atlantis,"  vol.  i.  p.  362,  with  translation,  and  by  Gilbert  and 
O'Looney  in  "  Facsimiles  of  National  MSS.  of  Ireland."    Translated  into 
French  by  MM.  Dottin,  and  Jubainville  in  "Epopee  Celtique  en  Irlande," 
p.  174. 

9  Translated  and  edited  by  Rev.  Edward  Hogan,  S.J.,  for  the  Royal 
Irish  Academy,  Todd,  Lecture  Series,  vol.  iv. 

10  The  text  edited  by  Windisch,  "  Irische  Texte,  Serie  II.,  i.  Heft,  p. 
164,  and  translated  by  M.  Maurice  Grammont,  in  Jubainville's  "  Epopee 
Celtique  en  Irlande,"  p.  150. 


362      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

Ultonians,1  the  Death  of  King  Conor,2  the  Wooing  of 
Ferb,3  the  Cattle  Spoil  of  Dartaid,4  the  Cattle  Spoil  of 
Flidais,4  the  Cattle  Spoil  of  Regamon,4  the  Tain  be  Aingen, 
the  Tain  Bo  Regamna^  the  Conception  of  the  two  Swine- 
herds,5  the  Deaths  of  Oilioll  (King  of  Connacht)  and  Conall 
Cearnach,6  the  Demoniac  Chariot  of  Cuchulain,7  the  Cattle 
Spoil  of  Fraich,8  are  some  of  the  most  available  of  the 
many  remaining  sagas  belonging  to  this  cycle. 

1  Translated  and  edited  by  Windisch,  "Dans  les  comptes  rendus  de  la 
classe  de  philosophic  et  d'  histoire  de  1'  Academic  royale  des  sciences  de 
Saxe,"   says  M.  d'Arbois  de  Jubainville,  who  gives   a  translation   from 
Windisch's  text  at  p.  320  of  his  "  Epopee  Celtique." 

2  Edited  and  translated  by  O'Curry  in  Lectures  on  the  MS.  Mat.  p. 
637,  and  again  by  D'Arbois  de  Jubainville. 

3  Edited  and  translated  by  Windisch  in  "  Irische  Texte,"  Dritte  Serie, 
Heft  II.,  p.  445. 

*  These  are  short  introductory  stories  to  the  Tain  Bo  Chuailgne  ; 
they  have  been  edited  and  translated  by  Windisch  in  "  Irische  Texte," 
Zweite  Serie,  Heft  II.,  p.  185-255. 

s  Edited  and  translated  by  Windisch,  "  Irische  Texte,"  Dritte  Serie, 
Heft  I.,  p.  230,  and  translated  into  English  by  Alfred  Nutt,  in  his  "  Voyage 
of  Bran,"  vol.  ii.  p.  58. 

6  Translated  and  edited  by  Kuno  Meyer  in  the  "  Zeitschrift  fiir  Celtische 
Philologie,"  I  Band,  Heft  I.,  p.  102. 

7  Edited  by  O'Beirne  Crowe  in  the  "Journal  of  the  Royal  Historical 
and  Archaeological  Association  of  Ireland,"  Jan.,  1870. 

8  Edited  by  O'Beirne  Crowe  in  "  Proceedings  of    the    Royal    Irish 
Academy,"  1871. 


CHAPTER    XXIX 

THE    FENIAN    CYCLE 

CUCHULAIN'S  life  and  love  and  death  entranced  the  ears  of 
the  great  for  many  centuries,  and  into  hundreds  of  bright  eyes 
tears  of  pity  had  for  a  thousand  years  been  conjured  up  by  the 
pathetic  tones  of  bards  reciting  the  fate  of  her  who  perished 
for  the  son  of  Usnach.  The  wars  of  Meve  and  of  Conor 
mac  Nessa  were  household  words  in  the  hall  of  Muirchertach 
of  the  leather  cloaks,  and  in  the  palace  at  the  head  of  the  weir 
— Brian  Boru's  Kincora.  Whosoever  loved  what  was  great 
in  conception,  and  admired  the  broad  sweep  of  the  epic  called 
upon  his  bards  to  recite  the  loves,  the  wars,  the  valour,  and 
the  deaths  of  the  Red  Branch  knights.1 

But  there  was  yet  another  era  consecrated  in  story-telling, 
another  age  of  history  peopled  by  other  characters,  in  which 
the  households  of  many  chieftains  and  some  even  of  the  chiefs 
themselves  delighted.  These  are  pictured  in  the  romances  that 
were  woven  around  Conn  of  the  Hundred  Battles,  his  son  Art 

1  Moore's  genius  has  stereotyped  amongst  us  the  term  Red  Branch 
knight,  which,  however,  has  too  much  flavour  of  the  mediaeval  about  it. 
The  Irish  is  curadh,  "hero."  The  Irish  for  "  Knight "  in  the  appellations 
White  Knight,  Knight  of  the  Glen,  etc.,  is  Ridire  (pronounced  "  Rid-ir-yS," 
in  Connacht  sometimes  corruptly  "  Rud-ir-ya "),  which  is  evidently  the 
mediaeval  "Ritter,"  i.e.,  Rider. 


364      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

the  Lonely,  his  grandson  Cormac  mac  Art,  and  his  great- 
grandson  Cairbre  of  the  Liffey.  This  cycle  of  romance  may 
be  called  the  "  Fenian  "  Cycle,  as  dealing  to  some  extent  with 
Finn  mac  Cumhail  and  his  Fenian1  militia,  or  the  "  Ossianic  " 
Cycle  since  Ossian,  Finn's  son,  is  supposed  to  have  been  the 
author  of  many  of  the  poems  which  belong  to  it. 

In  point  of  time — as  reckoned  by  the  Irish  annalists  and 
historians — the  men  of  the  Fenian  Cycle  lived  something  over 
two  hundred  years  later  than  those  of  the  Cuchulain  era2  and 
in  none  of  the  romances  do  we  see  even  the  faintest  confusion 
or  sign  of  intermingling  the  characters  belonging  to  the 
different  cycles.  One  of  the  surest  proofs — if  proof  were 
needed — that  Macpherson's  brilliant  "  Ossian  "  had  no  Gaelic 


1  Moore  helped  to  bring  this  word  into  common  use  under  the  form  of 
Finnian  in  his  melody,  "  The  wine-cup  is  circling  in  Alvin's  hall."  It  is 
probable  that  he  derived  the  word  from  Finn,  and  meant  by  it  "  followers 
of  Finn  mac  Cool."  The  Irish  word  is  Fiann  (pronounced  "  Fee-an  ")  and 
has  nothing  to  do  with  Finn  mac  Cumhail.  In  the  genitive  it  is  na  Feine 
(na  Fayna).  It  is  a  noun  of  multitude,  and  means  the  Fenian  body  in 
general.  The  individual  Fenian  was  called  Feinnidhe,  i.en  a  member  of 
the  Fenian  force.  The  bands  of  militia  were  called  Fianna  [Fee-an-a], 
The  word  is  declined  An  Fhiann,  na  Fcinnc,  do'n  Fheinn  [In  Eean,  na 
Fayn-a,  don  Aen]  and  fts  resemblance  to  the  proper  name  Finn  is  only 
accidental.  The  English  translation  of  Keating  made  early  in  the  last 
century,  by  Dermot  O'Conor,  does  not  use  the  term  "  Fenian"  at  all,  but 
translates  the  word  by  "Irish  Militia."  Nor  does  O'Halloran,  in  1778- 
when  he  published  his  history,  seem  to  have  known  the  term.  The  first 
person  who  appears  to  have  used  it  is  Miss  Brooke,  as  early  as  1796  :  in 
her  translation  of  some  Ossianic  pieces,  I  find  the  lines — 

"  He  cursed  in  rage  the  Fenian  chief 
And  all  the  Fenian  race." 

I  have  been  told  that  Macpherson  had  already  used  the  word,  but  I  have 
looked  carefully  through  his  Ossian  and  have  not  been  able  to  find  it. 
Halliday  in  his  edition  of  Keating,  in  1808,  talks  in  a  foot-note  of  "  Fenian 
heroes."  It  was  John  O'Mahony  the  head-centre  of  the  Irish  Republican 
Brotherhood,  a  brilliant  Irish  scholar  and  translator  of  Keating,  who 
succeeded  in  perpetuating  the  ancient  historic  memory  by  christening  the 
"  men  of  '68  "  the  "  Fenians." 

3  Cormac  mac  Art  came  to  the  throne,  A.D.  227,  according  to  the  "  Four 
Masters  "  ;  A.D.  213,  according  to  Keating. 


THE  FENIAN  CYCLE  365 

original,  is  the  way  in  which  the  men  and  events  of  the  two 
separate  cycles  are  jumbled  together. 

As  the  war  between  Ulster  and  Connacht,  which  followed 
the  death  of  the  children  of  Usnach,  is  the  great  historic  event 
which  serves  as  basis  to  so  many  of  the  Red  Branch  romances, 
so  the  principal  thread  of  history  round  which  many  of  the 
Fenian  stories  are  woven,  is  the  gradual  and  slowly  increasing 
enmity  which  proclaimed  itself  between  the  High-kings  of 
Erin  and  their  Fenian  cohorts,  resulting  at  last  in  the  battle  of 
Gabhra,  the  fall  of  the  High-king,  and  the  destruction  of  the 
Fenians. 

Thus  in  the  battle  of  Cnucha  is  related  how  Cumhail x 
[Cool],  the  father  of  Finn,  made  war  upon  Conn  of  the 
Hundred  Battles  because  he  had  raised  Criomhthan  of  the 
Yellow  Hair  to  the  throne  of  Leinster,  and  how  he  obtained 
the  aid  of  the  Munster  princes  in  the  war.  At  the  battle  of 
Cnucha  or  Castleknock,  near  Cool's  rath — now  Rathcoole 
some  ten  miles  from  Dublin — Cool  was  routed  and  slain  by 
the  celebrated  Connacht  champion  Aedh  mac  Morna,  who 
lost  an  eye  in  the  battle  and  was  thenceforth  called  Goll 
(or  the  blind)2  mac  Morna.  Many  of  the  Munster  Fenians 
followed  Cool  in  this  battle,  and  we  find  here  the  broadening 
rift  between  the  Fenians  of  Munster  and  of  Connacht  which 
ultimately  tended  to  bring  about  the  dissolution  of  the  whole 
body. 

Again  we  find  in  the  fine  tale  called  the  Battle  of  Moy 
Muchruime  how  Finn,  through  spite  at  his  father  Cool  being 
thus  killed  by  Conn  of  the  Hundred  Battles,  kept  out  of  the 
way  when  Conn's  son  Art  was  fighting  the  great  battle  of 
Moy  Muchruime  and  gave  him  no  assistance. 

And  again  it  was  partly  because  Finn  kept  out  of  the  way 
on  that  occasion  that  Conn's  great-grandson  fought  the  battle 

1  See  p.  258,  note  i. 

a  The  word  is  long  obsolete.  Goll  is  a  stock  character  in  Fenian 
folk-lore,  a  kind  of  Ajax. 


366      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

of  Gabhra  against  Finn's  son  Ossian  and  his  grandson  Oscar,  a 
battle  which  put  an  end  to  Fenian  power  for  ever. 

Of  many  of  these  tales  we  find  two  redactions,  that  of  the 
old  vellum  MSS.  and  that  of  the  modern  paper  ones,  the  latter 
being  as  a  rule  much  longer  and  more  decorative.  Here,  for 
instance,  is  the  later  version  of  one  passage  out  of  many  which 
is  slurred  over  or  disregarded  in  the  old  one1  ;  it  is  the  sailing  of 
Cumhail,  Finn's  father,  to  Ireland  to  take  the  throne  of  Leinster. 
I  translate  this  from  a  modern  manuscript  of  the  battle  of 
Cnucha,  in  my  own  possession,  as  a  good  instance  of  the 
decorative,  and  in  places  inflated  style  of  the  later  redactions 
of  many  of  the  Fenian  sagas. 

THE  SAILING  OF  CUMHAIL. 

"  Now  the  place  where  Cumhail  chanced  to  be  at  that  time  was 
between  the  islands  of  Alba  and  the  deserts  of  Fionn-Lochlan,  for 
he  was  hunting  and  deer-stalking  there.  And  the  number  of  those 
who  were  with  the  over-throwing  hero  Cumhail  in  that  place,  was  thrice 
fifty  champions  of  his  own  near  men.  And  he  heard  at  that  time 
that  his  country  was  left  without  any  good  king  to  defend  it,  and  that 
Cathaoir  Mor  [king  of  Leinster]  had  fallen  in  the  pen  of  battle,  and 
that  there  was  no  hero  to  keep  the  country.  Thereupon,  those 
chieftains  were  of  a  mind  to  proceed  unto  the  isolated  green  isle  of 
Erin,  there  to  maintain  with  valour  and  might  the  red-hand  province 
of  Leinster.  And  joyfully  they  proceeded  straight  forwards  towards 
their  ship.2 

"  And  there  they  quickly  and  expeditiously  launched  the  towering, 


1  Contained  in  the  Leabhar  na  h-Uidhre,  a  volume  copied  about  the 
year  noo,  and  printed  in  "Revue  Celtique,"  vol.  ii.  p.  86. 

2  With  this  thunderous  description,  all  sound  and  fury,  and  signifying 
very  little,  compare  the  Homeric  description  of  a  like  scene,  clear,  accurate, 
cut  like  a  gem  : 

rolcriv  d'iKfj,£vov  ofipov  t«  e«ca£pyo 

ol  d'iarbv  arrjaavT',  ava  9'  iaria  XSVKU 

kv  d'dvep.0£  irprjaev  (Jisaov  iariov,  afityi  fit  KVfJia 

CTttpy  Tt'opQvptov  fieydX'  ta%e,  vrjog  iovar\Q' 

'TJ  d'  tOezv  Kara  Kyjua,  diaTrpfjGcrovaa  KsXevOa. 

ILIAD  I.,  p.  480. 

But  the  Irish  passage,  though  quoted  here  to  exemplify  a  common 
feature  of  the  Fenian  tales,  really  dates  from  a  time  of  decadence. 


THE  FENIAN  CYCLE  367 

wide-wombed,  broad-sailed  bark,  the  freighted  full-wide,  fair-broad, 
firm-roped  vessel,  and  they  grasped  their  shapely  well-formed  broad- 
bladed,  well-prepared  oars,  and  they  made  a  powerful  sea-great, 
dashing,  dry-quick  rowing  over  the  broad  hollow-deep,  full-foamed, 
pools  [of  the  sea],  and  over  the  vast-billowed,  vehement,  hollow- 
broken  rollers,  so  that  they  shot  their  shapely  ships  under  the 
penthouse  of  each  fair  rock  in  the  shallows  nigh  to  the  rough- 
bordered  margin  of  the  Eastern  lands,  over  the  unsmooth,  great- 
forming,  lively-waved  arms  of  the  sea,  so  that  each  fierce,  broad, 
constant-foaming,  bright-spotted,  white-broken  drop  that  the  heroes 
left  upon  the  sea-pool  with  that  rapid  rowing,  formed  [themselves] 
like  great  torrents  upon  soft  mountains. 

"  When  that  valiant  powerful  company  perceived  the  moaning  of 
the  loud  billow-waves  and  the  breaking  forth  of  the  ocean  from  her 
barriers,  and  the  swelling  of  the  abyss  from  her  places,  and  the  loud 
convulsion  of  the  sea  from  her  smooth  streams,  it  was  then  they 
hoisted  the  variegated,  tough-cordaged,  sharp-pointed  mast  with 
much  speed.  And  when  the  great  foundation-blasts  of  the  angry 
wind  touched  the  even  upright-standing,  sword-straight  masts,  and 
when  the  huge-flying,  loud-voiced,  broad-bordered  sails  swallowed 
the  wind  attacking  them  suddenly  with  sharp  voice,  that  stout, 
strong,  active,  powerful  crew  rose  up  promptly  and  quickly,  and 
every  one  went  straight  to  his  work  with  speed  and  promptitude,  and 
they  stretched  forth  their  ready  courageous,  white-coloured,  brown- 
nailed  hands  most  valiantly  to  the  tackling,  till  they  let  the  wind  in 
loud,  sharp,  fast,  voice-bursts  into  the  shrouds  of  the  mast,  so  that 
the  ship  gave  an  eager,  very  quick,  vigorous  leap  forward,  right 
straight  into  the  salt-ocean,  till  they  arrived  in  the  delightfully-clear, 
cold-pooled,  querulously- whistling,  joyfully-calling  reaches  of  the 
sea,  and  the  dark  sea  rose  speedily  around  them  in  desperate-daring 
floodful  doisleana,  in  hardly-separated  ridges  and  in  rough-grey, 
proud-tongued,  gloomy-grim,  blue-capacious  valleys,  and  in  im- 
petuous shower-topped  wombs  [of  water]  ;  and  the  great  merriment 
of  the  cold  wind  was  answered  by  the  chieftains,  strong-workingly, 
stout-enduringly,  truly-powerfully,  and  they  proceeded  to  manage 
and  attend  the  high-ocean,  until  at  last  the  strong  and  powerful  sea 
overcame  the  intention  of  the  high  wind,  and  the  murmur  and  giddy 
voice  of  the  deep  was  humbled  by  that  great  rowing,  till  the  sea  became 
restful,  smooth,  and  very  calm  behind  them,  until  they  took  port  and 
harbour  at  Inver  Cholpa,  which  is  at  this  time  called  Drogheda." 

The  stories  about  Cormac  mac  Art,  his  grandfather  Conn 
of  the  Hundred  Battles,  and  his  son  Cairbre  of  the  Liffey, 


368      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

which  are  numerous,  are  mostly  more  or  less  connected  with 
the  Fenians,  and  may,  as  they  deal  with  the  same  era  and  the 
same  characters,  be  conveniently  classed  along  with  the  Fenian 
sagas.  One  of  the  best  known  of  these  sagas  is  the  Battle  of 
Moy  Leana1  in  which  Conn  of  the  Hundred  Battles  slew  his 
rival  Owen,  who  had  forced  from  him  half  his  kingdom. 
Owen  had  lived  for  six  years  in  Spain,  and  had  married  a 
daughter  of  the  Spanish  king.  At  the  end  of  this  time  he 
was  seized  with  great  home-sickness  and  he  proposed  to 
return  to  Ireland.  When  his  father-in-law  heard  this,  he  said 
to  him  : — 

"  If  that  Erin  of  which  you  speak,  Owen,  were  a  thing  easily 
moved,  we  would  deem  it  easier  to  send  the  soldiers  and 
warriors  of  Spain  with  you  thither  to  cut  it  from  its  foundation 
and  lay  it  on  wheels  and  carry  it  after  our  ships  and  place  it  a 
one  angle  of  Spain  " — a  grandiloquent  speech  which  Owen  did 
not  relish  ;  "  He  did  not  receive  it  with  satisfaction,  and  it  was 
not  sweet  to  him,"  says  the  saga. 

The  King  perceived  this  however,  and  offered  him  just  what 
he  wanted,  two  thousand  warriors  to  help  him  and  his  exiles  in 
acquiring  the  kingdom.  The  account  of  their  embarcation 
and  voyage  is  perhaps  as  good  a  specimen  of  exaggerated 
verbosity  and  of  the  rhetoric  of  the  professed  story-teller  as 
any  other  in  these  sagas,  which  abound  with  such  things, 
and  it  is  perhaps  worth  while  to  give  it  at  length.  It  will 
be  seen  that  the  story-teller  or  prose-poet,  passes  everything 
through  the  prism  of  his  imagination,  and  aided  by  an  extra- 
ordinary exuberance  of  vocabulary  and  unbounded  wealth  ot 
alliterative  adjectives,  wraps  the  commonest  objects  in  a  hur- 
ricane of — to  use  his  own  phrase — "  misty-dripping  "  epithet. 
The  Battle  of  Moy  Leana  is  recorded  in  the  Annals  of  Ulster, 
by  Flann  in  the  eleventh  century,  and  by  the  Book  of  Leinster, 
and  no  doubt  the  essence  of  the  saga  is  very  ancient,  but  the 

1  Published  by  Eugene  O'Curry  for  the  Celtic  Society.  I  adhere  to  his 
admirable,  and  at  the  same  time  perfectly  literal,  translation. 


THE  FENIAN  CYCLE  369 

dressing-up  of  it,  and  especially  the  passage  I  am  about  to  quote, 
is,  in  its  style — not  to  speak  of  the  language  which  is  modern — 
almost  certainly  post-Norman. 

THE  SAILING  OF  OWEN   MOR. 

"Then  that  vindictive  unmerciful  host  went  forward  to  the 
harbours  and  ports  where  their  vessels  and  their  sailing  ships 
awaited  them ;  and  they  launched  their  terrible  wonderful  mon- 
sters ;  their  black,  dangerous,  many-coloured  ships ;  their  smooth, 
proper-sided,  steady,  powerful  scuds,  and  their  cunningly-stitched 
Laoidheangs  from  their  beds  and  from  their  capacious,  full-smooth 
places,  out  of  the  cool  clear-winding  creeks  of  the  coast,  and  from  the 
calm,  quiet,  well-shaped,  broad-headed  harbours,  and  there  were 
placed  upon  every  swift-going  ship  of  them  free  and  accurately 
arranged  tiers  of  fully-smoothed,  long-bladed  oars,  and  they  made  a 
harmonious,  united,  co-operating,  thick-framed,  eager-springing, 
unhesitating,  constant-going  rowing  against  currents  and  wild 
tempests,  so  that  loud,  haughty,  proud-minded,  were  the  responses 
of  the  stout,  fierce-fronted,  sportive-topped  billows  in  conversing 
with  the  scuds  and  beautiful  prows." 

"The  dark,  impetuous,  proud,  ardent  waters  became  as  white- 
streaked,  fierce-rolling,  languid-fatigued  Leibhiona,  upon  which  to 
cast  the  white-flanked,  slippery,  thick,  straight-swimming  salmon, 
among  the  dark-prowling,  foamy-tracked  heads  [of  sea  monsters] 
from  off  the  brown  oars. 

"  And  upon  that  fleet,  sweeping  with  sharp  rapidity  from  the  sides 
and  borders  of  the  territories,  and  from  the  shelter  of  the  lands,  and 
from  the  calm  quiet  of  the  shores,  they  could  see  nothing  of  the 
globe  on  their  border  near  them,  but  the  high,  proud,  tempestuous 
waves  of  the  abyss,  and  the  rough,  roaring  shore,  shaking  and 
quivering,  and  the  very-quick,  swift  motion  of  the  great  wind 
coming  upon  them,  and  long-swelling,  gross-springing,  great  billows 
rising  over  the  swelling  sides  of  the  [sea]  valleys,  and  the  savage, 
dangerous,  shower-crested  sea,  maintaining  its  strength  against  the 
rapid  course  of  the  vessels  over  the  expanse,  until  at  last  it  became 
exhausted,  subdued,  drizzling  and  misty,  from  the  conflict  of  the 
I  waves  and  fierce  winds. 

"  The  labouring  crews  derived  increased  spirits  from  the  bounding 
i  of  the  swift  ships  over  the  wide  expanse,  and  the  wind  coming  from 
;  the  rear,  directly  fair  for  the  brave  men,  they  arose  manfully  and 
t  vigorously  to  their  work,  and  lashed  the  tough,  new  masts  to  the 

t<  u-™,.,    o — ,otj^   ample,  commodious  bulwarks,  without  weakness, 


370     LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

without  spraining,  without  overstraining.  Those  ardent,  expert 
crews  put  their  hands  to  the  long  linen  [sails]  without  shrinking, 
without  mistake,  from  Eibhil  to  Achtuaim,  and  the  swift-going,  long, 
capacious  ships,  passed  from  the  hand-force  of  the  warriors,  and  over 
the  deep,  wet,  murmuring  pools  of  the  sea,  and  past  the  winding, 
bending,  fierce-showery  points  of  the  harbours,  and  over  the  high- 
torrented,  ever-great  mountains  of  the  brine,  and  over  the  heavy, 
listless  walls  of  the  great  waves,  and  past  the  dark,  misty-dripping 
hollows  of  the  shores,  and  past  the  saucy,  thick-flanked,  spreading, 
white-crested  currents  of  the  streams,  and  over  the  spring-tide,  con- 
tentions, furious,  wet,  overwhelming  fragments  of  the  cold  ocean,  until 
the  sea  became  rocking  like  a  soft,  fragrant,  proud-bearing  plain,  swell- 
ing and  heaving  to  the  force  of  the  anger  and  fury  of  the  cold  winds. 
"  The  upper  elements  quickly  perceived  the  anger  and  fury  of  the 
sea  growing  and  increasing.  Woe  indeed  was  it  to  have  stood 
between  those  two  powers,  the  sea  and  the  great  wind  when  mutually 
attacking  each  other,  and  contending  at  the  sides  of  strong  ships  and 
stout-built  vessels  and  beautiful  scuds.  So  that  the  sea  was  in 
showery-tempestuous,  growling,  wet,  fierce,  loud,  clamorous,  dan- 
gerous stages  after  them,  whilst  the  excitement  of  the  murmuring 
dark-deeded  wind  continued  in  the  face  and  in  the  sluices  of  the 
ocean  from  its  bottom  to  its  surface.  And  tremulous,  listless,  long- 
disjointed,  quick-shattering,  ship-breaking,  was  the  effect  of  the  dis- 
turbance, and  treacherous  the  shivering  of  the  winds  and  the  rolling 
billows  upon  the  swift  barks,  for  the  tempest  did  not  leave  them  a 
plank  unshaken,  nor  a  hatch  unstarted,  nor  a  rope  unsnapped,  nor  a 
nail  unstrained,  nor  a  bulwark  unendangered,  nor  a  bed  unshattered, 
nor  a  lifting  uncast-down,  nor  a  mast  unshivered,  nor  a  yard  untwisted, 
nor  a  sail  untorn,  nor  a  warrior  unhurt,  nor  a  soldier  unterrified,  nor 
a  noble  unstunned — excepting  the  ardour  and  sailorship  of  the  brave 
men  who  attended  to  the  attacks  and  howlings  of  the  fierce  wind. 

"  However,  now,  when  the  wind  had  exhausted  its  valour  and  had 
not  received  reverence  nor  honour  from  the  sea,  it  went  forward, 
stupid  and  crestfallen,  to  the  uppermost  regions  of  its  residence; 
and  the  sea  was  fatigued  from  its  roarings  and  drunken  murmurings, 
and  the  wild  billows  ceased  their  motions,  so  that  spirit  returned  to 

he  nobles  and  strength  to  the  hosts,  and  activity  to  the  warriors,  and 
strength  to  the  champions.  And  they  sailed  onwards  in  that  order 
without  delay  or  accident  until  they  reached  the  sheltered  smooth 

harbour  of  Cealga  and  the  shore  of  the  island  of  Greagraidhe." 

Who  or  what  the  Fenians  were,  has  given  rise  to  the  greatest 
diversity  of  opinion.  The  school  of  Mr.  Nutt  and  Professor 


THE  FENIAN  CYCLE  371 

Rhys  would,  I  fancy,  recognise  in  them  nothing  but  tribal 
deities,  euhemerised  or  regarded  as  men.1  Dr.  Skene  and  Mr. 
Mac  Ritchie  believed  that  they  were  an  altogether  separate 
race  of  men  from  the  Gaels,  probably  allied  to,  or  identical  with, 
the  Picts  of  history ;  and  the  latter  holds  that  they  are  the  sidhe 
[shee]  or  fairy  folk  of  the  Gaels.  The  native  Irish,  on  the 
other  hand,  who  were  perfectly  acquainted  with  the  Picts,  and 
tell  us  much  about  them,  have  always  regarded  the  Fenians  as 
being  nothing  more  or  less  than  a  body  of  janissaries  or  standing 
troops  of  Gaelic  and  Firbolg  families,  maintained  during  several 
reigns  by  the  Irish  kings,  a  body  which  tended  to  become 
hereditary.  Nor  is  there  in  this  account  anything  inherently 
impossible  or  improbable,  especially  as  the  Fenian  regime 
synchronises  with  a  time  when  the  Irish  were  probably 
aggressively  warlike.  Keating,  writing  in  Irish  about  the  year 
1630,  gives  the  traditional  account  of  them  as  he  gathered  it 
from  ancient  books  and  other  authorities  now  lost,  and  this 
certainly  preserves  some  ancient  and  unique  traits.  He  begins 


1  Mr.  Nutt  seems  to  believe  that  the  whole  groundwork  of  the  Fenian 
tales  is  mythical.  His  position  with  regard  to  them  is  fairly  summed  up 
in  this  extract  from  -his  note  on  Mac  Innes'  Gaelic  stories.  "  Every  Celtic 
tribe,"  he  writes,  "  possessed  traditions  both  mythical  and  historical,  the 
former  of  substantially  the  same  character,  the  latter  necessarily  varying. 
Myth  and  history  acted  and  reacted  upon  each  other,  and  produced  heroic 
saga  which  may  be  defined  as  myth  tinged  and  distorted  by  history.  The 
largest  element  is  as  a  rule  suggested  by  myth,  so  that  the  varying  heroic 
sagas  of  the  various  portions  of  a  race,  have  always  a  great  deal  in  common. 
These  heroic  sagas,  together  with  the  official  or  semi-official  mythologies 
of  the  pre-Christian  Irish  are  the  subject-matter  of  the  Annals.  They  were 
thrown  into  a  purely  artificial  chronological  shape  by  men  familiar  with 
biblical  and  classical  history.  A  framework  was  thus  created  into  which 
the  entire  mass  of  native  legend  was  gradually  fitted,  whilst  the  genealogies 
of  the  race  were  modelled,  or  it  may  be  remodelled  in  accord  with  it.  In 
studying  the  Irish  sagas  we  may  banish  entirely  from  our  mind  all  ques- 
tions as  to  the  truth  of  the  early  portions  of  the  Annals.  The  subject 
matter  of  the  latter  is  mainly  mythical,  the  mode  in  which  it  has  been 
treated  is  literary.  What  residuum  of  historic  truth  may  still  survive  can 
be  but  infinitesimal."  (See  Mr.  Nutt's  valuable  essay  on  Ossianic  or 
Fenian  Saga  in  "  Waifs  and  Strays  of  Celtic  Tradition,"  vol.  ii.  p.  399.) 


372      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

by  rejecting  the  ridiculous  stories  told  about  them,  such  as  the 
battle  of  Ventry  and  the  like,  as  well  as  the  remarks  of 
Campion  and  of  Buchanan,  who  in  his  history  of  Scotland 
had  called  Finn  a  giant. 

"It  is  proved,"  writes  Keating,  "that  their  persons  were  of  no 
extraordinary  size  compared  with  the  men  that  lived  in  their  own 
times,  and  moreover  that  they  were  nothing  more  than  members  of 
a  body  of  buanadha  or  retained  soldiers,  maintained  by  the  1 
kings  for  the  purpose  of  guarding  their  territories  and  of  upholding 
their  authority  therein.  It  is  thus  that  captains  and  soldiers  are  at 
present  maintained  by  all  modern  kings  for  the  purpose  of  defending 
their  rule  and  guarding  their  countries. 

"The  members  of  the  Fenian  Body  lived  in  the  following  manne 
They  were  quartered  on  the  people  from  November  Day  till  May 
Day,  and  their  duty  was  to  uphold  justice  and  to  put  down  injustice 
on  the  part  of  the  kings  and  lords  of  Ireland,  and  also  to  guard  the 
harbours  of  the  country  from  the  oppression  of  foreign  invaders 
After  that,  from  May  till  November,  they  lived  by  hunting  and  the 
chase,  and  by  performing  the  duties  demanded  of  them  by  the  kings 
of  Ireland,  such  as  preventing  robberies,  exacting  fines  and  tributes, 
putting  down  public  enemies,  and  every  other  kind  of  evil  that  might 
afflict  the  country.     In  performing  these  duties  they  rec 
certain  fixed  pay.  .  .  . 

"  However,  from  May  till  November  the  Fenians  had  to  contei 
themselves  with  game,  the  product  of  their  own  hunting,  as  this 
fright  to  hunt]    was  their  maintenance  and  pay    from  the  kings 
of  Ireland.    That  is,  the  warriors  had  the  flesh  of  the  wild  animals 
for  their  food,  and  the  skins  for  wages.     During  the  whole  day,  f ror 
morning  till  night  they  used  to  eat  but  one  meal,  and  of  this 
their  wont  to  partake  towards  evening.      About  noon  they  i 
to  send  whatever  game  they  had  killed  in  the  morning  by  then 
attendants  to  some  appointed  hill  where  there  were  wood  and  moor 
land  close  by.    There  they  used  to  light  immense  fires,  into  win 
they  put  a  large  quantity  of  round  sandstones.    They  next  dug  two 
pits  in  the  yellow  clay  of  the  moor,  and  having  set  part  of  the  venison 
upon  spits  to  be  roasted  before  the  fire  they  bound  up  the  remamdei 
with  sugans— ropes  of  straw  or  rushes— in  bundles  of  sedge,  and  then 
placed  them  to  be  cooked  in  one  of  the  pits  they  had  previously  dug. 
There  they  set  the  stones  which  they  had  before  this  heated  in  tl 
fire  round  about  them,  and  kept  heaping  them  upon  the  bundles 
meat  until  they  had  made  them  seethe  freely,  and  the  meat  1 
become  thoroughly  cooked.    From  the  greatness  of  these  fires  it 


THE  FENIAN  CYCLE  373 

resulted  that  their  sites  are  still  to  be  recognised  in  many  parts  of 
Ireland  by  their  burnt  blackness.  It  is  they  that  are  commonly 
called  Fualachta  na  bhFiann,  or  the  Fenians'  cooking-spots. 

"  As  to  the  warriors  of  the  Fenians,  when  they  were  assembled  at 
he  place  where  their  fires  had  been  lighted,  they  used  to  gather 
round  the  second  of  those  pits  of  which  we  have  spoken  above,  and 
there  every  man  stripped  himself  to  his  skin,  tied  his  tunic  round  his 
waist,  and  then  set  to  dressing  his  hair  and  cleansing  his  limbs,  thus 
ridding  himself  of  the  sweat  and  soil  of  the  day's  hunt.  Then  they 
began  to  supple  their  thews  and  muscles  by  gentle  exercise,  loosening 
them  by  friction,  until  they  had  relieved  themselves  of  all  sense 
of  stiffness  and  fatigue.  When  they  had  finished  doing  this  they  sat 
down  and  ate  their  meal.  That  being  over,  they  set  about  con- 
structing their  fiann-bhotha  or  hunting-booths,  and  preparing  their 
beds,  and  so  put  themselves  in  train  for  sleep.  Of  the  following  three 
materials  did  each  man  construct  his  bed,  of  the  brushwood  of  the 
forest,  of  moss,  and  of  fresh  rushes.  The  brushwood  was  laid  next 
the  ground,  over  it  was  placed  the  moss,  and  lastly  fresh  rushes  were 
spread  over  all.  It  is  these  three  materials  that  are  designated  in  our 
old  romances  as  the  tri  Cuilcedha  na  bhFiann — the  three  Beddings  of 
the  Fenians." 

Every  man  who  entered  the  Fenian  ranks  had  four  geasa 
[gassa,  i.e.,  tabus]  laid  upon  him, 

"  The  first,  never  to  receive  a  portion  with  a  wife,  but  to  choose 
er  for  good  manners  and  virtues  ;  the  second,  never  to  offer  violence 
any  woman ;  the  third,  never  to  refuse  any  one  for  anything  he 
might  possess  ;  the  fourth,  that  no  single  warrior  should  ever  flee 
before  nine  [i.e.,  before  less  than  ten]  champions." 

There  was  a  curious  condition  attached  to  entrance  into  the 
rotherhood  which  rendered  it  necessary  that 

"Both  his  father  and  mother,  his  tribe,  and  his  relatives  should 
first  give  guarantees  that  they  should  never  make  any  charge  against 
any  person  for  his  death.  This  was  in  order  that  the  duty  of  aveng- 
ing his  own  blood  [wounds]  should  rest  with  no  man  other  than 
himself,  and  in  order  that  his  friends  should  have  nothing  to  claim 
with  respect  to  him  however  great  the  evils  inflicted  upon  him." 

All  the  Fenians  were  obliged  to  know  the  rules  of  poetry,1 

1  "  Of  all  these,"  says,  with  true  Celtic  hyperbole,  the  fifteenth-century 
sllum  in  the  British  Museum,  marked  "  Egerton,  1782,"  "  not  a  man  was 


374      LITERARY  HISTORY  OF  IRELAND 

for  no  figure  in  Irish  antiquity,  layman  or  cleric,  could  ever 
arrive  at  the  rank  of  a  popular  hero  unless  he  could  compose, 
or  at  least  appreciate  a  poem. 

The  Fenian  tales  and  poems  are  extraordinarily  numerous, 
but  their  conception  and  characteristics  are  in  general  distinctly 
different  from  those  relating  to  the  Red  Branch.  They  have 
not  the  same  sweep,  the  same  vastness  and  stature,  the  same 
weirdness,  as  the  older  cycle.  The  majority  of  them  are  more 
modern  in  conception  and  surroundings.  There  is  little  or  no 
mention  of  the  war  chariot  which  is  so  important  a  factor  in 
the  older  cycle.  The  Fenians  fought  on  foot  or  horseback, 
and  we  meet,  too,  frequent  mention  of  helmets  and  mail-coats, 
which  are  post-Danish  touches.  Things  are  on  a  smaller 
scale.  Exaggeration  does  not  run  all  through  the  stories,  but 
is  confined  to  small  parts  of  them,  and  it  is  set  off  by  much 
that  is  trivial  or  humorous. 

The  Fenian  stories  became  in  later  times  the  distinctly 
popular  ones.  They  were  far  more  of  the  people  and  for  the 


taken  until  he  was  a  prime  poet  versed  in  the  twelve  books  of  poetry.  No 
man  was  taken  till  in  the  ground  a  large  hole  had  been  made  such  as  to 
reach  the  fold  of  his  belt,  and  he  put  into  it  with  his  shield  and  a  forearm's 
length  of  a  hazel  stick.  Then  must  nine  warriors  having  nine  spears, 
with  a  ten  furrows'  width  between  them  and  him,  assail  him,  and  in 
concert  let  fly  at  him.  If  he  were  then  hurt  past  that  guard  of  his,  he  was 
not  received  into  the  Fian-ship.  Not  a  man  of  them  was  taken  until  his 
hair  had  been  interwoven  into  braids  on  him,  and  he  started  at  a  run 
through  Ireland's  woods,  while  they  seeking  to  wound  him  followed  in  his 
wake,  there  having  been  between  him  and  them  but  one  forest  bough  by 
way  of  interval  at  first.  Should  he  be  overtaken  he  was  wounded  and  not 
received  into  the  Fian-ship  after.  If  his  weapons  had  quivered  in  his 
hand  he  was  not  taken.  Should  a  branch  in  the  wood  have  disturbed 
anything  of  his  hair  out  of  its  braiding  he  was  not  taken.  If  he  had 
cracked  a  dry  stick  under  his  foot  [as  he  ran]  he  was  not  accepted. 
Unless  that  [at  full  speed]  he  had  both  jumped  a  stick  level  with  his 
brow,  and  stooped  to  pass  under  one  on  a  level  with  his  knee,  he  was  not 
taken.  Unless  also  without  slackening  his  pace  he  could  with  his  nail 
extract  a  thorn  from  his  foot  he  was  not  taken  into  the  Fian-ship.  But  if 
he  performed  all  this  he  was  of  Finn's  people."  (See  "  Silva  Gadelica," 
p.  100  of  English  vol.) 


THE  F